A new season of American Idol has begun and it feels familiar. It feels like the same show that I’ve been watching off and on for eight years. Not a bit stale and yet I can’t quite get past the feeling that it isn’t right anymore. As if it’s become somewhat of a parody of itself somewhere along the road. We’ve always known that the producers craft things in such a way as to up the dramatic tension but I think last year I became too aware of it. From the bikini girl, to the annoying girl who kept getting airtime just because she was good for ratings, to the order of the contestants singing in the final rounds; everything just felt staged.

I still think it’s a good thing in that it provides an avenue for singers who might never have gotten any real shot to get that shot but when it feels manipulated it starts to feel dishonest. And when it’s dishonest does it make the winner and the other singers look somewhat dishonest? As if they won unfairly?

A niggling problem. One that gnaws at the back of your brain stem. But because of how entertaining the show is also something that can be overlooked.

But this year is different. This is the last year of Simon Cowell and the first year of Ellen DeGeneres. I think Ellen is very entertaining, very funny, but completely wrong as a judge. Not just an odd, out of the box, type choice. A wrong choice. Say what you will about Paula Abdul but she was an extremely successful singer and performer at one point in her life and had credibility. As whacked out as she often appeared she was a survivor of the popular music grind. We’ll see how Ellen does but I don’t think even the contestants are going to listen to what she has to say. Abdul often kept her comments brief but Ellen doesn’t often do brief anything, so more blather, with less purpose. Tedious.

Idol might have been able to survive that decision but not also losing Simon Cowell. That’s the big one. That’s the brick bat to the back of the head for the show. He’s the star. He’s the one people tune in to see. There are other stars, there are other reasons for watching but he IS the star.

Last year they tried something different with the judges, starting with a new judge every time instead of starting with Randy and ending with Simon. Simon delivered the punchline and instead of isolating that punchline at the end they decided to place it at the beginning or the middle and most often it didn’t work. If Simon got off that great one-liner it made the judge’s comments that followed his completely irrelevant. And if he didn’t get off that one liner (and he doesn’t all the time) then the viewer felt an emotional let down that made the other comments that followed his also completely irrelevant.

Rick Dodge is partially based on Simon Cowell, specifically the constant black shirt and the constant smirking snark, so I’m sad to see him go from Idol (though it does give me an idea as to who could be the new snarky judge on Idol next season….) but I look forward to his new show next year and I hope it does well enough that I can continue to steal jokes… wait.

 Be inspired by, yeah, that’s better, be inspired by Simon Cowell.