This year American Idol has not been particularly good but the thing that I have been most missing is the improvement from okay to actually good that the show used to do very well. Last year Kris Allen was adequate and then became decent and then actually good towards the end. His progress was steady and nothing particularly spectacular but it was nice to see a singer grow into a performer. He had potential and American Idol nurtured that potential until he ended in a really good place; the Champion.

In previous years the judges would tend to focus on one area a contestant needed improvement on and hammer that home. Not a very good entertainer? Work on it. Not comfortable on stage? We can see that – get over it. Not capable of singing the high notes? Why are you trying? Work around it. Often that was my favorite part of the show, not the criticism but how the specific advice could be applied by the performer on the next show.

Partially I felt it was crippled by the inclusion of Ellen Degeneres, she was funny but had no credibility and when she started the show was just parroting Randy on the technical stuff. It was ridiculous and she stopped doing that but without that all she had left were jokes. Which were often funny but not germane to the subject at hand. But mainly it came down to Simon Cowell. He was not on his game at all this year. Maybe he was just burned out but he did not have the effect he usually did.

Criticism can make you better when it is specific, repeated and correct. This year the criticism was often not repeated. It was disjointed, unspecific and thus wasn’t applied correctly by the contestants. If someone is telling you one thing one week and then telling you something completely different the next it’s hard to know which way to go and what to work on.

Now, how does that differ from say…, music critics? The music critic is not there to tell an artist how to be better, they are there to tell the public if the music is worth listening to or not. Some seem to believe they help artists to become better, and occassionally they do (though it must be pointed out that often musicians that listen to their critics try to change their sound and become something they are not and usually serve as an example of why they should be what they are) but in the end they are usually not knowledgeable enough to offer that advice. They are listeners, avid listeners admittedly, but listeners nonetheless. A record executive (like Simon Cowell), a songwriter (like Kara DioGuardi) and a musician (like Randy Jackson) have credibility as part of the industry. Someone like that giving you honest feedback is invaluable as has been often shown over the years on American Idol.

Music critics?

They’re the Ellen DeGeneres of American Idol, generally they have little credibility.