Will the ‘American Idol’ Judges’ Save make a lick of difference?

03.12.09 8 years ago


Amidst great anticipation and ample nervousness from viewers, “American Idol” announced a new wrinkle on Wednesday (March 11) night.

FOX explains The Judges’ Save thusly, “Up until only five finalists remain, the judges – if they unanimously agree – have the option to save from elimination the finalist receiving the lowest number of votes. The judges do not have to save a finalist during the competition. However, if they choose to use the Judges” Save, they may only do so once during the season. The following week, the two finalists receiving the lowest number of votes will be eliminated.”

I’ve already seen a few fanatics online moaning and groaning about how this is the death of democracy on “American Idol.” Already, we had a Top 13 in which nearly a third of the contestants were autocratically selected by the judges after being rejected by the American People. Would this be another affront? 

Short answer? No. 

If the judges save the lowest votegetter and America still doesn’t like that singer the next week, they’re every bit as gone. Obviously nothing can be done to get back the time you spent hitting redial on the invalidated voting night and I don’t expect any refunds from AT&T for invalidated texts. 

But will this make any difference in the actual competition?

My answer after the break…

In celebrating the potential of the Judges’ Save, host Ryan Seacrest ran through the list of allegedly prematurely departed “American Idol” favorites. We remembered Tamyra Gray, Jennifer Hudson, Chis Daughtry and Michael Johns, as if these horrible injustices could or would be rectified if only the judges could step in. 

The first and most obvious thing to note is that both Chris and Tamyra got the boot inside the Top Five. They couldn’t have been helped by a Judges’ Save anyway. Heck, in his “Idol” exit interview today, Jorge Nunez referenced Clay Aiken as another contestant who went home too early and could have been Saved. No. No, he couldn’t have.

Was it just an injustice for Michael Johns to have departed last year at No. 8? Yes. Totally. There’s no way Michael could have gone home before Kristy Lee Cook, who survived three weeks in the Bottom Three. But giving Michael Johns an extra week in the competition wouldn’t suddenly have made him more popular than the inexplicably adored Brooke White or Jason Castro. It might have pushed him ahead of Carly Smithson or possibly Syesha Mercado, who was in the Bottom Three the week Michael was eliminated, but Carly had her devoted fans and Syesha eventually went all the way to No. 3, so why would it have been better for the show to keep Michael around for that one or possibly two weeks? He was never going to make it to the Finals, which were set in stone almost from the beginning of the Top 12. So would the Judges’ Save have changed the game? Not in any meaningful way.

But Jennifer Hudson would have been a no-brainer, right?

The idea that Jennifer Hudson’s elimination was one of the great “American Idol” shames isn’t revisionist history, but it is selective memory. 

She may have an Oscar now, but in Season Three, viewers just didn’t love J-Hud. First she didn’t advance out of her Semifinal group, finishing behind eventual Finalists Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo (no shame there), but also behind Matthew Metzger. Heck, she might have finished behind more singers, but “Idol” only revealed the Top Three that night and Jennifer Hudson wasn’t there. She made the Top 12 as Randy’s Wild Card choice, but she was in the Bottom Three the next week, finding herself only more popular than Leah LaBelle. Then she was in the Bottom Three again two weeks later, finding herself only more popular than Amy Adams. She had a two-week reprieve before her elimination after Barry Manilow Night.

On one hand, we can pretty much all agree that it was madness that saw John Stevens and Jasmine Trias outlast Hudson in the competition. We knew that then and we know it now. And we also can reasonably say now that Hudson was more talented than anybody else that season short of Fantasia, but that’s hindsight talking. At the time, Hudson was entrenched as the third of the Three Divas. The reality in the moment that she was voted out was that the voters didn’t have all that much warmth for Jennifer Hudson. Yes, the voters may have been “wrong,” but after three Bottom Three finishes in five weeks, would the Judges’ Save have launched Jennifer towards a Finals berth, or would it only have delayed the inevitable for one week or two? 

I suspect the latter. 

So I glanced at the seven previous seasons of “American Idol” to find singers who should, reasonably, have made it three or four or five positions further than they were eliminated, contestants who might genuinely have gotten a big boost from the Judges’ Save.

These are the best I could come up with:

Stephanie Edwards was eliminated second in the Season Six Top 12. She was a little dull, but she was a markedly better singer than Chris Sligh, Gina Glocksen, Haley Scarnato and Sanjaya Malakar. If Stephanie had been kept around for one more week, maybe she would have showcased that voice and pushed ahead of a few of those lesser, personality-driven performers. That’s a big jump, but it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Constantine Maroulis had never been in the Bottom Three when he was eliminated in Season Four. I really never thought he was any good, but others disagreed. Certainly if the judges had saved him, he could have moved up the pecking order ahead of Scott Savol and Anthony Fedorov. Does he make it into the Finals ahead of Bo Bice or Carrie Underwood? No. Does he maybe push out Vonzell Solomon and take third? Yeah. I can imagine that. 

Sepinwall made an argument in favor of Chikezie, who was eliminated after a dullsville performance of “If Only for One Night,” which followed up a pair of excellent up-tempo Beatles performances. Why did Chikezie abandon his up-tempo success? Maybe if the judges had saved Chikezie and told him to never, ever do a ballad again, he would have continued to be the season’s most fun performer and maybe he might have outlasted Ramiele Malubay and maybe Kristy Lee Cook and maybe somebody else? Maybe?

Would any of those extensions have made the show any better? Maybe. Much better? Probably not.

I went over seven seasons of “Idol” results with a fine-toothed comb and I couldn’t find a single instance where a likely use of the Judges’ Save would have impacted that season’s Finals, much less that season’s winner. There a few performers — Vanessa Olivarez, Christina Christian, Nadia Turner — who might have milked another week or two out of their reprieve. I just can’t fine any logic that suggests that the use of a Judges’ Save will do anything to improve either the competitive balance of the show or its drama.

In fact, it’s much easier to support a claim that these supposed “shocking” eliminations are central to the show’s excitement and are central to Seacrest’s nightly threats that if people don’t vote, they don’t get to complain about the results. That ties up the lines and that allows Seacrest to frequently boast about record-breaking vote totals. You need the occasional Jennifer Hudson or Michael Johns as a cautionary tale to keep voters vigilant. The idea that a voting mistake or a week’s apathy can just be repaired by a judicial consensus decreases urgency and may harm “American Idol.”

Or else the Judges’ Save will just never be used. 

What do you think?

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