Every Reality TV competition show needs to have some gimmicks to draw in an audience. Switching out equipment mid-competition, making competitors work in teams, surprise trips, side challenges… TV writers and producers employ a million of these plot devices to ensure that our attention span-challenged nation will keep tuning in. ‘American Idol’ also has the task of filling four hours of air time a week, so the show has to come up with a lot of ridiculousness to keep us watching.
This season, we were introduced to “The Chamber” during auditions. The Chamber was basically a small closet rigged with cameras that auditioners were forced to stand in until the overhead light turned green. Then they were called before the judges. It was similar to the slow elevator ride of previous years, however the closet concept was more akin to prisoner torture. You may recall similar closets in ‘Cool Hand Luke’ or ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’. This closet was dumb and built no drama. Hopefully it will go away after one season and never return, much like Brian Dunkleman, Ryan Seacrest’s original co-host.
Next we’re into Hollywood Week, where episodes brim with drama and gimmicks before we settle into the character development and singing. New this year was the initial contestant cut in the airplane hanger. We’ve had Hollywood Week episodes in hangers before, since they’re particularly good for making contestants walk long distances under odd lighting. However, contestants this year were taken directly from the airport to the hanger and made to sing. As expected, there were some lovely performances and some complete fails. Without telling them the results, contestants were loaded into two buses and… *cue the drama*… one bus went to the hotel while the other went back to the airport, ending their ‘Idol’ journey. We then watched for several minutes while the contestants on both buses looked concerned. We were supposed to weigh the mix of competitors on each bus to figure out which group was going where. This was a good plot device, save one thing. They were already in an airplane hanger, which means they were already at the airport. Maybe another venue should have been chosen to make the bus ride a little longer.
Then we got into the meat of Hollywood Week, were contestants had to form groups and put together a song and dance to perform for the judges the next day. There wasn’t much change to the format this year, which is a good thing, because this formula works well. We saw the typical characters – dramatic boy, crying girl, overbearing stage mom, overwhelmed kid, too-little-practice girl, nice guy, missing girl, sick boy, etc. The performances were also typical. A few were awesome and had me squealing with delight over the harmonies and solos, but a few were complete train wrecks.
What’s next for the gimmicks? I’m sure that we’ll see a few more as contestants are whittled down to the Top 30. I predict competitors will be divided into multiple hotel conference rooms and some will be sent home. I predict we’ll hear more backstories that involve cute children back home, aging grandparents, and shots of tractors in the heartland. And I predict that soon, very soon, the stylists will get their hands on these kids and the crazy get-ups will keep us watching.