The New “American Idol” Season: Will We See A Rebound Or A Dead-Cat Bounce?

americanidol.jpgTomorrow night the seventh season of American Idol begins, and the show’s profile as a star-making factory isn’t exactly sparkling at present: One of its former finalists is in forced rehab, two of its winners just got dropped by their record labels while another one has had a protracted tussle with hers, and two runners-up are staying in the news by staying classy. On top of that, the show is coming off its first season of declining viewership, and its Idol-for-groups spinoff The Next Great American Band didn’t do so, erm, great. Which is probably why the show’s producers are retooling major parts of the whole enterprise, and letting every media outlet know that America will see a newer, flashier Idol tomorrow. After the jump, we compile the show’s season-seven “innovations,” and rate them on a scale of one to five of the ever-ubiquitous Coca-Cola cups that rest in front of each judge while they’re being warbled at.

A new set and a new opening credit sequence. I’m going to guess that Idol’s producers want to wash the stink of The Next Great American Band–which ripped off the opening credit sequence and used the same stage–off them as thoroughly as possible. Three half-filled Coke cups.

Allowing contestants to play instruments. This seems more like a way for the early audition rounds to get extra “wacky”–in the Times, Nigel Lythgoe snickers about a dude who tried to play drums and sing “Hooked On A Feeling” simultaneously–than a way to widen the competition’s scope. Although who knows, maybe they’ll let someone from Light Of Doom through for added synergy. Two Coke cups.

Reality-TV rejects in the Hollywood Round. Curiously, this development–which was broken by Vote For The Worst and the Idolforums a few weeks back–was not mentioned by the Idol producers in any of the preview stories I read. Hmm, I wonder why? One Coke cup filled with melted ice.

More backstories. Sure, fleshing out certain candidates is a way to make the viewers at home want to root for them, but how many times is the audience going to want to hear “… and then I got cut from Making The Band“? Three Coke cups.

A “Where Are They Now?” segment about contestants from years gone by. They had to bring Sanjaya back somehow, I guess. Two Coke cups full of soda mixed with tears.

Ditching the mentors. Probably the best tweak this season. You know you’re in trouble when you’re having Jennifer Lopez give anyone advice on singing. Four and a half Coke cups.

Three farewell songs, instead of one. If anything else, this’ll spread the digital-track-sale love around. And apparently a “major recording star” has covered a classic hit to be used in the season-ending episodes’ farewell montages. It’s gotta be McCartney, right? Two Coke cups.

Fox promising that, no matter how long the writers’ strike goes on, it won’t saturate its schedule with extra Idol episodes. Look for this promise to be broken sometime around mid-March, preferably after a “shock” elimination that sends home one of the producers’ favorites. (Carly Hennessy, this could be your now.) One Coke cup turned upside-down.

It’s Fox’s ‘Idol’ to the rescue [Variety]
‘American Idol’ tries to get its groove back in upcoming seventh season [USA Today]
The Return Of “Idol,” Confident In Season 7 [NYT]
[Photo: FOX]