'American Idol': The disastrous booting of Pia Toscano reveals why critics, yes, DO matter


Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox (2); Frank Micelotta/Fox

Anyone who’s a critic these days has to contend with a steady anti-mainstream-media drumbeat, one that sounds something like this: Critics don’t matter! They’re out of the touch with The People! They’re snobby hacks whose opinions carry no more validity than anyone else’s! (Memo to haters: Have I left out any of your complaints?) If you accused me of being defensive on this issue, you would probably be right. It’s how I make my living, so of course I’m bound to get a little touchy about it. Yet I also think that I’m capable of setting my personal bias aside to talk about why critics, at their best, really do matter. And offhand, I can think of no better illustration of why they matter than what happened on American Idol last week, when the golden-throated songstress Pia Toscano got booted off before her time. The audience voted, presumably with their hearts, but where were the judges, the tastemakers — the critics! — when we needed them?

One can natter on about the usual voting-idiosyncrasy conspiracy theories (not enough of Pia’s fans bothered to call in for her!). Or one could argue that the vote last week was as democratic an expression of viewer wisdom as it is any week on Idol, and that there was nothing outrageous about it at all. I concur, to a small degree, with the excellent case made by Ken Tucker about the Achilles’ heel of Pia as a singer: She’s so seamless in her technical and emotional perfection, her voice so controlled a vessel, that the ultimate effect of a Pia performance, no matter how good, is always a little staid. Personally, I have one additional theory about her rejection that I haven’t heard floated yet. The song that Toscano chose for her fatal week, the Tina Turner/Phil Spector classic “River Deep – Mountain High,” is an anthem of volcanic power, but it’s also one of the oddest songs in rock & roll history. It boils and roils, it crescendos, it gets all breathless and frenzied and ecstatic, but it doesn’t quite have what you could call a groove. When it first came out in 1966, public reaction to the song was so negative that Spector effectively ended his own career in response. I’ve known and loved “River Deep – Mountain High” since the mid-’70s, but it’s a track that takes a bit of getting used to. I imagine that if you were hearing it for the first time (as probably 90 percent of the Idol audience was) on the night that Pia embossed it with her usual amber perfection, it might have made you go “Hmmmm…”

But look, all of this rationalizing — and the spin control from Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who was clearly out to save face — misses the forest for the trees. Pia may still be learning to cut loose, and perhaps her Celine Dion-on-Xanax vibrato-machine smoothness is a touch too imperial, but even if she wasn’t meant to go the distance, she got kicked off way too early, and the more you think about it, the more obvious it is who the culprits are. As Dalton Ross, Kristen Baldwin, and Annie Barrett eloquently argued in their podcast last week, it was, more than anything else, the judges’ fault. They’ve become the equivalent of movie-ad quote whores, greeting each performance, no matter how mediocre, with the equivalent of air kisses, pelting each contestant with little bouquets of ego-stroking positivity. In their holy quest to avoid the negative, they now offer no criticism, no guidance, no sense of any standard that they’re operating from. They’re encasing each performance in a Bubble Wrap of hype.

In recent weeks, as this has really gotten out of hand, it has become depressingly clear — at least, this is my theory — that the judges have been muzzled by the show’s producers. I say this because Randy, who at the start of the season seemed like he was becoming the new Simon (simply by remaining his old commonsensical, I-love-you-dawg-but-here’s-something-you-gotta-work-on self), grew softer and softer, and looked less and less happy about it. To give one telling example: I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for the soaring pop-gospel quavers of Jacob Lusk (whose rendition of Heart’s “Alone” is the most haunting performance so far this season), but his version of “Man in the Mirror” last week not only added nothing new to Michael Jackson’s, it was egregiously out of tune — and for any of the judges, especially the sharp-eared Randy, to fail to point that out was unforgivable. They also blew it by letting James Durbin get away with a lazy, ’60s-variety-show lounge-lizard version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I usually think that James is terrific, but he needed to be called out on that one. And had he and a few of the others been called out, Pia might still be there.

It was more than a little ironic to see the judges’ jaw-dropping, head-shaking outrage at what happened to Pia, since this was a case of the chickens coming home to roost, with the all-praise-all-the-time strategy laid bare as the timid — and, yes, dishonest — “feel good” ideology it is. You could see the battle over that ideology turn ugly when Randy offered one of the few (mild) tidbits of criticism on last week’s show, complaining about the bumpy rhythm of the first half of Stefano’s performance, and the other two judges, especially Jennifer Lopez, castigated him, as if the very idea that he was offering words that weren’t “supportive” made him some sort of buzzkill Debbie Downer. In those few seconds, the atmosphere on the judges’ panel turned almost Stalinist. What Lopez was saying wasn’t only that she disagreed with Randy, but that his willingness to engage in criticism — any criticism — had put him on the wrong side of the show’s vibe, the wrong side of America. With the studio audience cued to agree, and to display its displeasure by booing, the whole segment took on the air of a fascist pep rally. Meanwhile, Lopez managed to gush over every single performance on rock & roll night — yet she visibly recoiled when Iggy Pop, one of the inventors of rock & roll, stuck his wild-one sneer in her face. Does J. Lo really prefer Stefano to Iggy Pop? (I’d be afraid to know the answer.)

Of course, audiences on Idol used to make similar hoots of displeasure when Simon Cowell went into one of his solo pirouettes of slice-and-dice disdain. Yet they also hung on his every word, and with good reason: For nearly a decade on Idol, Simon wasn’t just an electrifying personality and a caustically fearless judge. He was a great critic — not because he was “mean,” but because what he said was blunt and honest and incisive and fascinating. He had plenty of enthusiasm, but when he didn’t, his reasons for not liking something made you sit up and think. You might agree with him, or you might disagree, but either way, you reacted to the surgical wit of his perceptions. He had a vision of what a song should be, and his vision, more often than not, enhanced and enlarged what you heard.

Right now, the judges on Idol aren’t enhancing anything. They’re just blurring the line — between the good and the not-so-good, between the performers we like and the ones we love. Their miscalculated early save of Casey Abrams was just one more instance of their refusal to make distinctions, shrewdly and soberly, coming back to bite them. They were so busy cheerleading that they threw away their one real act of power. (Hell, a week earlier, J. Lo had wanted to use the save on Karen Rodriguez!) The grandest irony of all is that without content, without criticism, in what the judges elect to say, the singers aren’t raised up high. They’re subtly diminished, all mashed together into a sweetly cloying marzipan of weekly good vibes. If there’s a lesson in the booting of Pia Toscano, it’s that criticism, when it’s offered by people who know what they’re doing, isn’t evil. It’s a force that enriches, an aesthetic helping hand, a declaration of reality that helps the best artists prevail. Let’s hope that tonight the judges remember what they’re there for, that they’re willing to be critics again. Let’s hope that they start judging.

Read more:
‘American Idol’: Top 8 Power List
‘American Idol': What should the Top 8 sing for songs from the cinema week? What should they avoid?
‘American Idol': Women didn’t vote for Pia because they’re jealous? Ridiculous!

Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman

Comments (410 total) Add your comment
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  • Lisa

    Bravo Owen. They need to own their part in this travesty. We’ll see if they change anything tonight.

    • K

      Pia’s voice was very plain during her performances(except for last weeks River Deep-that was her best). She was great at long notes but that is all. Buy the cds by the singers Leona Lewis and Adele and listen to all the magic they do with their voice in a song.

      • H

        Owen, I see what you are saying but what about the music producers? You say she needed criticism from the judges…the show hired Jimmy Iovine and other music producers. I would think the music producers gave her criticism.

      • DW

        Adele yes, Leona Lewis no.

      • wow

        DW, wow really? You don’t like Leona? That chick rocks! The excellent Simon Cowell is her executive producer.

      • Tom Strong

        All this fuss over a dumb karaoke show? Get a life, people!

      • research

        This is her fifth time auditioning for American Idol. Fifth! Go to the website Wikipedia and type in Pia Toscano and you will find that out. You guys are exaggerating about this girl.

      • Mac

        Owen – You are right about Jennifer Lopez. You fail to mention Steven Tyler, who has become Randy Jackson (everything is “Beautiful”). Lopez could be critical sometimes – I have never seen Tyler offer anything but praise.

      • katie

        I definitely get your point and agree that the judges need to step it up.

        But I think people are getting a little too hyped about Pia leaving. Sure, she was an excellent singer, but she wasn’t a great performer. And no one wants to hear droopy ballads every week. There’s always someone unexpected who goes home earlier than people thought….but I don’t think anyone thought Pia would actually win it.

        Either way, the judges do need to step it up. It’s boring to watch them.

      • Linda

        You do have a point H. They brought in Jimmy Iovine and the rest of the producers to perfect the performances, so is it the judge’s fault that the contestants are so good this year? That’s like saying “well, we brought in this trainer to help you prepare for the marathon, but we didn’t expect you to be this good.” A good performance is a good performance, period.
        And don’t even mention Simon. Sure, he was CRITICAL, but did he offer any CONSTRUCTIVE criticism? Comments like “that was a bit karaoke,” or “you sounded like a drunk dad at a wedding” do not help the contestants perform any better. Not once did I hear Simon say “that was a good performance because x,” or “that was bad because x.”

      • @wow

        I’m with DW on this one, Leona Lewis is a bog-standard Mariah-ish diva with no real depth to her voice, and a perfect example of why Simon isn’t really the music expert that some fans like to make that he is.

      • kellybelly

        No, No, No….I disagree…partially. Yes, if the judges had focused more on who was having problems, maybe the voters would have followed suit.
        But I think, really,
        The reason why Pia was voted off, was because the voting system on idol is screwy.
        Always was and has been. That is why Tamyra Gray, Chris Daughtry and heck Jennifer Hudson were gone before their time.
        According to dialidol, Pia was the 3rd highest vote getter and predicted to be safe. This site has about an 88% success rate.
        So, only dialidol people voted for Pia?
        Or more viewers voted for those that they felt were in danger more?
        We will never know, because until Idol changes the voting system to allow only 1 vote per call or web, it’ll be random and these stupid results will happen.

      • Kylie

        Linda – I totally disagree. Did u you watch the show for the last 9 years? Simon would almost always break down why a performance was good or bad. It was HIS opinion of why it wasn’t good or why it was the best yet. Yes he would offer some critiques which would at times hit below the belt but Simon was a constructive critic. He made contestants better even just by them trying to avoid getting a Simon “karaoke” or “cruise ship” comment. When Simon gives you a compliment – you KNOW you rocked it. When Steven Tyler gives you a compliment that means “You. Sing. Sexy.” The contestants and the show are hitting a plateau this season – and I agree with Owen, the judges need to step up and do their JOBS.

      • innerjuju

        I wouldn’t have EVER voted for Pia. I thought she wasn’t as pitch-perfect as everyone keeps claiming and I was bored to tears. Does this mean there weren’t others just like me voting for contestants they actually liked who WEREN’T Pia???

      • Ray Harcourt

        Yeah well you need to listen to Pias original songs that she has written and produced herself. This girl is extremely good and it will show if they let her put some of them on her album. We have some of them on her fansite right now. Right at the bottom of the home page there is a jukebox and we have i think 6 of them. She has written over 40 songs herself. She will be a force and I cant wait to watch her do it.

    • KatieT

      Excellent article. I have, so far, enjoyed the kindler, gentler judging. However, the voting results appear to be skewed to the rapi-text generation which may or may not buy the i-output of these singers. The idea that the judges should have more of an impact is worthy. I would prefer to see the judges 1/3, public voting 2/3 approach used in 2012.

      I do have one quibble. Iggy Pop is NOT one of the founders or even lesser stars in the formation of Rock ‘n Roll. Not by a long shot.

      • Krista

        I completely agree with this article. Yes, Pia was a little boring but if that’s the reason she’s out, why did she even make it as far as she did in the finals? I have to think that people voted her in because of her voice, not her personality.

      • Mac

        Poor Katie,

        Iggy Pop IS a rock icon, whether or not you react to him like J. Lo.

      • Mary

        I agree with this article. At first, I enjoyed the kinder, gentler juding. However, lately I found myself getting bored with the show. It’s the same over and over. They’re all great. I actually have been watching the performances, fast forwarding the judges comments and then reading what other viewers had to say on various entertainment blogs. I wanted to know what their opinion was. I realized how much I missed Simon and his true comments. We may not have always liked what he had to say, but he was always honest. I think it helped the contestants push themselves as well.

      • dee123

        Cause everything on Wikipedia is true.

      • t

        @dee123, it is true. This is Pia’s fifth time auditioning.

    • Razor

      Disastrous? A travesty? This is a competition (or at least the pretense of one). So let’s say Pia managed to make it to the Final Three or Two. She gets voted off and someone else wins. Does that ease everyone’s little sting? This show is supposed to be about focusing on the zeitgeist of the American music-a-lovin’ public, and it’s supposed to be real and gritty and so forth, and give otherwise unknown talent a moment in the sun. Pia got hers. She also got a record deal. Is it only valid if she wins as well? And as far as whether or not critics matter—sure they matter. They are the ones who hopefully keep you and I from spending our hard-earned dollars on crap, by offering up their opinion. But that’s all it is—an opinion—and unless Owen is going to buy a couple million copies of Pia’s album, that’s about as far as his opinion counts.

      • Yanni

        What would be FAR more interesting is if the judges offered up insight based on things that happened to them in their own careers.

    • yawn

      EW is too obsessed with Pia’s ouster. Yes, it was a shocking elimination and no, she didn’t deserve to be sent home this early in the competition but I would rather see more articles devoted to the remaining contestants instead of every theory on why she’s no longer on the show.

      • Fingerlakes Dave

        Agreed. Why all the press around this issue? MANY people have left as the 9th person and NOT stirred this much controversy.
        Where’s the discussion on how all this focus on Pia affects the remaining eight???

      • CJG

        OK. But this article was more about the judges than Pia. And it was spot on.

      • Mary Sue

        Well, I for one do not need a judge to tell me if I like something or not. Come on people – do you REALLY need JLo to tell you if something sounds good? Or Randy Jackson? Or god-forbid Steven Tyler? PLEASE!!! This is just one of the problems in this country – people can’t seem to think for themselves. They “need” the judges on American Idol. They “need” the talking heads on Fox “News” to tell them what to think. They “need” Simon Cowell to be the voice of reason. GET OVER IT! Pia had the SAME EXACT opportunity as any other contestant on this show and guess what – SHE DIDN’T GET ENOUGH VOTES. SO WHAT!! She still landed a record deal and I for one can’t wait to see her tank just as fast as Kris Allen and Lee Whatever his name is. Let’s face it people – other than Underwood and Clarkson there has never really beeen a mega-selling artist to come from this show. Sure, Daughtry does fine (even though he apparently sucks in concert), but the rest have all just sort of stalled on the charts. Pia isn’t the be-all end-all of singers and the voters got it right. Geez EW – how much is Fox paying you to keep this story going????

      • Plugh

        Yawn, CJG is right. The point is Pia is the best example of what is wrong with the show’s judging. It’s funny that there seems to be a good deal of “hate” towards Pia on these ew.com boards, but — even if you agree with those opinions — her issues with her image and performance quality were potentially more correctable than other contestants who are constantly out of tune, or just plain limited in their vocal abilities. Alas, we’ll never know what would have happened. I can’t say I’ll stop watching, but it’s no longer appointment viewing for me. And tonight, it gets switched off right at 9p for “Modern Family”.

      • favorite

        Agreed! I vote for my favorite whether the judges love them or not.

      • kellybelly

        And Owen,regarding Simon: “Simon…was a great critic — not because he was “mean,” but because what he said was blunt and honest and incisive and fascinating.”

        Blunt? Yes
        Honest? yes
        Fascinating? Yes

        Incisive? Hmmm, no.
        I would add “Vague” “Long Winded” “Rambling”. He would give this incoherent analogies that were not helpful in the slightest. And while Simon ushered in the mean judge and honest critiques, he ended his idol reign, less critical and even more obscure and time wasting.

    • JOHN

      …great article and I agree 110%…now with that said, I think the producers and ‘powers that be’ are smiling ear to ear…I predict that tonight show will have huge viewership what with the controversy…and this show is A BUSINESS and the ‘businessmen’ are thrilled….secretly, I hope I’m wrong.

    • Jess

      Great article and I sincerely hope (but doubt) that at least one of the judges will read this and get their act together. I don’t think either Jennifer or Steven Tyler became the stars they are by refusing to stand up for themselves and moreover, I doubt that they lack the ability to recognize when a singer is out of tune. So it’s been more than a little depressing these past few weeks when they just kept on dishing out meaningless platitudes. There’s a difference between being supportive and being ridiculous and i’m afraid they’re on the bad side of that line.

      • lila

        agree, they don’t lack the ability to be critical but they are using the show for other things, self promotion and a paycheck being the main ones, and cultivating their own fan club for ego massage another

    • RichardC

      Tonight was more of the same lame judging to horrific performances i.e. Paul :-O i turned off A.I. after Randy made the statement “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” What was broken about Pia doing ballads? Ridiculous two-face judging

    • DB

      What happened in Japan and Haiti was DISASTROUS! What happened to Pia was disappointing and a bit sad. She did not lose her home, her limbs, or her life. She lost a singing competition.

      The title of this article is insulting and the reason that so many people think critics are IDIOTS. I can’t believe this guy was delusional enough to use the term ‘disastrous’ and ‘American Idol’ in the same ‘sentence.’ He should be a critic for Teen Beat.

      • Angela

        Well, if you don’t think it’s important, then why are you commenting on this article?

    • Theo

      Her song choice was bad, but her dress was worse. I would have thought that it was impossible to make her look bad, but she looked ugly in the outfit. The combination of the two did her in.

      • lila

        so true

    • Gabriel

      Your comments are right on point!!! GOOD JOB!!! FInally someone to break it all down and put it perfectly. What it boils down to is that the judges need to provide constructive criticism without worry over their perceptions or the shows image. If they can’t do that, they need to go…Plain & Simple.

    • lou

      The truth is is that this panel did a better job on picking talent and getting them to the top 12 than before. I don’t think that just happened by accident, but what is showing now is they are going with “their” opinion. They don’t have what Simon did, of somehow knowing what the majority of the viewing audience thought about a singer/or should think… They don’t understand the importance of song choice… they are very weak on vision

    • Kaodai

      I agree with you, Owen. The judges are not doing their jobs. But, I’m not sure if they could’ve prevented Pia’s departure by really judging the contestants. With that said, I think it’s better for Pia to get out now rather than later. By being evicted early, she can avoid being marked as an ‘American Idol’ product.

  • Jay

    while there is some truth in this article, the main culprit of the clueless voting is, and always has been, the tween girls

    • cami

      Idol’s main audience is women 25-55 years of age, not teens or tweens.

      IF tween girls are able to influence the voting out of proportion to their share of the audience OR out of proportion to their intent to purchase the contestant’s post-Idol music, it is because of the availability of power voting.

      • Kate

        Just exactly where are you getting “Idol’s main audience is women 25-55″ – is that written somewhere?

      • Millions

        @Jay, there is millions of votes in America. Blaming it on teens? Is that really the only lame excuse you can come up with? People vote for who connects with them.

      • ger

        I’m pretty sure only Lifetime has a target audience of women 22-55

      • Ralph

        this is not a country show! this should be pop music, and NO the judges are not doing their jobs!

      • kellybelly

        @Kate — yes, it is.
        The Hollywood Reporter did a survey in Dec/Jan, and found out that the majority of AI’s “voters” are 25-55. And a larger majority of those are women. I forget the exact percentage. (Not all of that age group are women, just a larger percentage)
        None of these power dialing tweens theories hold up.

    • V

      And their parents for giving them unlimited texting plans.

    • Kate

      Amen, brotha! All one has to do is look at the previous 3 Idols, David Cook, Kris Allen (whom I love) and whathisface (yeah, i know Lee) – all 3 white, fairly good looking men in their early 20s – the perfect subject of the tween and teen girls’ dreams! Arghhhhh … Judges, do your JOB already and let’s see some real critiquing here!

      • Dana

        David Cook deserved to win…he was just that good!

      • Kate

        @Dana – i did love David Cook too while on the show but what has he done since? The fact is, Idol has not had a million+ selling artist since Daughtry (5 yrs ago – not even a 2nd place finisher!)and Carrie Underwood (6 yrs ago). None of the past 3 Idols have had that kind of success (or even marginally close) so those teeny girls who voted need to borrow daddy’s credit card and go buy their records~!

      • Anna

        I think that if it was only tween girls voting, David Archuleta would have won in season 7. Don’t get me wrong, that is not always the case(i was in my early teens when Cook won and i loved him) David Cook sold 1.5 million copies of his 1st album and a new one is coming out this year. But i do agree that the judges do not do enough critiquing! the show is not the same with out simon.

      • Rosie

        1. David deseved to win, he did do some stuff after he won but then his brother died. He hasn’t really done anything since, it may be connected to his brother.
        2. Kris however did not deserve to win, and so far I can only think of 1 song I’ve heard him release.
        3. Let’s face did anyone really look like they were gonna do anything big with their careers last season?

      • duranmom

        I’m currently 41 and I confess to dialing my fingers off for David Cook and Kris Allen. Lee…not so much.

      • Ralph

        white girls maybe, and not the best singers!

      • Amy

        First, I don’t think Lee is even sort of good-looking. I don’t honestly care that he won that season, even though Crystal was a better singer. Anyway, for both season 7 & 8, I loved the top 2 and I would have been happy with either of them winning (though at the time, I was glad Kris won because it was so obvious the producers and the media wanted Adam to win). I don’t see why people care so much about the demographics.

    • angela

      my sons and daugther, my daughter that had recently past away, my husband and myself watch it every week and have since it started. My kids all were shocked and upset with pia leaving. They said that girl has a record deal waiting for her, she was noticed. I thought there opinion mattered. She was amazing and they new it. its people that sit on the phone voting over and over.

      • hillbilleter

        I agree, it’s the people who have the endless time and inclination to sit and send repetitive text-votes who rack up the votes for their favorites. We saw how Twitter campaigns can sharply skew the results with Bristol Palin on DWTS.

  • Lyrics

    Owen…I thought you were a movie critic here? You write about music now too? River Deep was not the reason Pia got kicked off…it was her past weeks that got her kicked off. Her performances were boring and CLOSED MINDED. Her song choices-not enough word lyrics.

    • Marissa

      Owen is not just talking about Pia’s exit specifically. He’s urging the judges to actually do the job they’re being paid millions to do and JUDGE.

    • Nate

      Whether or not you think her performances were boring, the point that Owen and others have been trying to make is that no one told Pia that. In the past, Simon would call someone out for poor song choice or being “indulgent” or whatever. Now no one is telling them what they’re doing wrong, so they can’t improve.

    • DiMi

      Owen Gleibermen is NOT A MUSIC CRITIC and this shallow article proves it.
      Music criticism deserves a better defense than this.

      I agree that critics are important, but this articles ridiculous claims undermines the cause of criticism.
      1. Owen, if you think River Deep, Mountain High as TINA sang it, did not have Groove, then you don’t know what Groove is and you have no business writing about music. Pia did NOT bring the groove and energy to an unusual song that needed it, and she suffered because of it.
      2. Pia was technically perfect but she was NOT “Emotionally Perfect” as you suggest. Her lack of emotional authenticity is the reason voters did not connect with her.
      3.Jennifer Lopez told PIA EVERY SINGLE WEEK that she needed to work on performance and connecting with the audience, and Pia never heeded her advice, advice which would have a. saved her and b. helped her win the whole thing. Again, you don’t even seem to pay attention to the show you are describing. Shouldn’t a “critic” be more aware of his material?
      3.You keep lauding Simon, but he REJECTED PIA when she auditioned. The only reason she made it to the finals this season is because of the current judges.

      I think critics are VERY important, but this pathetic excuse for music criticism combined with an analysis that ignores the facts undermines your entire argument.

      • Mike

        I totally agree with Owen that River Deep, Mountain High is a tough sell because the AI audience is largely unfamiliar with it and the song requires an extended version (not the absurd 90 seconds of AI covers) to mine the emotion in it. Perhaps most importantly, it’s meant to be sung as a duet. Pia should have chosen another song. The audition process btw is very subjective. Singers do improve from year to year by practicing and having other gigs. Pia, for example, has sung the national anthem and God Bless America at MLB games on a few occasions. Other singers have been rejected in one audition city, travelled to the next audition city (in the same season mind you)and made it onto the show.
        A young woman this year had audtioned seven times before and just missed the cut for the final 24. Simon wasn’t infallible as the last few winners during his tenure weren’t particularly great. Amber Riley, a terrific female singer on Glee, never made it past the audition rounds a few years back. There are so many other examples of why someone cannot be judged by how many times they auditioned for something.

    • Ray Harcourt

      Only your opinion. I thought she was fantastic, Loved every performance she gave. And if your opinion was shared by most there would not have been any outcry at all. Dont see it for any of the others do you? Pia was really screwed over by Idol. All the others got some face time in the auditions and Hollywood. Pia was virtually an unknown before top 24 and went right to first pick to win it all. You think shes boring but Ive seen her doing the current stuff and she is incredible. Look for the loonies interview and you will see her true personality. Its the best interview on her that ive ever seen.

  • Travie

    Agree that that American Idol judges need to offer more specific guidance to the finalist. But the finalists need to take the advice and guidance of their very successful producers.

    • lila

      true, Pia was actually one of the only contestants given truthful critique but she barely absorbed it.

  • Here, here!

    Well said.

  • Ram

    EW Article #3,417 on Pia Toscano. Move on already!

    • mscisluv

      Seriously (and I’m a big Idol fan!). Her getting kicked off this early was surprising maybe, but not “disastrous.” She didn’t enough votes because she’s boring. End of story.

      • Eileen

        Yup, exactly.

    • cat

      but you are still reading/commenting on it?

  • Savonarola

    Also bear in mind the the judges have picked these singers themselves. Criticizing them is tantamount to saying they made a casting mistake. Maybe the judges shouldn’t be the casters as well.

  • LindaT

    Thanks, Owen. Now, please tweet this to Nigel — maybe we’ll get lucky and he will actually pay some attention to the lack of useful critique by the judges.

    • cami

      The only thing to which Nigel pays attention is the sound of his own voice.

  • cami

    Let’s not overstate Simon’s value as an HONEST critic.

    Simon did not always give an honest critique. There were some obvious moments in which he was either playing dumb because he was afraid of sending voters straight to their phones to be contrary or because he didn’t want to kick his pet of the season or because the singer was TPTB choice.

    I will never forget how he did NOT call out Danny Gokey for the horror of Scream On. If ever a performance needed a slap down, it was that one and the panel of judges ended up saying he deserved “An A for effort.”

    • Sally

      Simon lost all respect the day he didn’t give a slap down for the monstrosity of Danny Gokey’s Dream On. Danny even knew it was awful.
      Simon of the early years, where he gave valid critique, whether harsh or not, would have been very welcome now. Simon of the past few years, where he was just phoning it in? Not so much.

      • Gigii

        Maybe I’m remembering this wrong, but I could’ve sworn that Simon referred to Danny’s performance as “something out of a horror movie”. It sounds like a slap down to me.

    • Kiki

      I agree with cami. Owen, I suspect you haven’t been a steady viewer of Idol over the years, or you’d remember the many times Simon’s critique was more interested in “clever snark” than actual criticism. “You could hear that on any cruise ship/at any wedding/any karaoke bar” isn’t actually useful criticism. (It would be like you saying “this movie is bad. It has bad stuff in it. Not good” but not saying how or why!
      For several weeks, J Lo gave better criticism than Simon ever did. Yes, she also tried to be *nice* — but she gave substantive, useful feedback that the contestants could *use.*

      • Squishmar

        Kiki, I totally agree. I’ve been keeping up with all the posts about things… haven’t actually been able to watch the show for weeks. I just watched the Motown show last night and back *then* Jennifer clearly stated that: Yes, Pia had the voice, Yes, Pia had the look and beauty…..BUT she needed to connect to the song and the audience more. What she was doing was not going to be enough in future weeks. She compared her to Celine Dion but said the difference was that when Celine walked on a stage she *owned* it. It was very constructive criticism and very prescient of Jennifer… she saw what was going to come if Pia didn’t step it up and it indeed, came to pass that viewers grew tired of it. I think Jennifer was so upset because she was frustrated that Pia didn’t heed her advice earlier and prevent herself from not getting the votes to stay… not inspiring enough people with a passion for her….

    • Jo

      You are wrong. It was Kara and Randy who gave Danny a pass. Simon did not.

    • Amy

      Uh, if I remember correctly, Simon did criticize it. I can’t remember the exact simile he used, but it was definitely not a positive one. And like a previous poster said, Danny acknowledged that it was pretty bad.

  • Alison

    Kudos, Owen, on a beautifully written article. Well said.

  • Templar

    Personally I’m glad they saved Casey and couldn’t save Pia. I’m not a Casey fan, but he will add real diversity to the tour. Pia was mind numbingly dull and when i see them on tour, Pia’s number will be the time for a concession stand break.

    • Cat


    • Sally

      I’m not a Pia fan either, but I’m not sure I would take a concession break at this time either. Remember, Pia is now off Idol. Which means she is getting valid and helpful critique now from her recording company, manager, whatever. I expect her to be a billions times better come tour time.

      • Templar

        She went to a performing arts school, how much more help does she need?

  • Pam

    Thank you!
    These judges are just cheerleaders! Show is such a bore anymore. why watch it. Stick a fork in it, its over.

    • Templar

      And you’re posting here because you don’t watch it anymore?

    • DiMi

      Jennifer did her job. She told Pia week after week that she needed to work on her performance and connecting to the audience. Pia ignored her because she was sure she was safe, and now she’s gone. I think Jennifer can be too nice and cutesy, but I think she was really trying to save Pia because she knew there was a problem, and Pia paid for not listening to her. So basically Jennifer did exactly what she was supposed to do.

  • Matt

    While I completely agree with your observation that the judges are overly hyping every performance and failing in their duty to provide criticism, I do not think this supports your conclusion that critics are necessary to “help” the public decide who to vote for. I don’t believe that any of these judges has any more discerning an ear than a viewer at home. We are entirely capable of hearing music and deciding what we like, and we do not need an “expert” panel of judges to dictate our tastes. Indeed, you should recall that in years past the public has very often not voted in lock step with Simon’s critiques. Don’t get me wrong — I think critics are hugely important, particularly when we are deciding whether or not to see a movie or buy a CD, or when we are interested to hear another take on something we enjoyed. But ultimately, I think we choose for ourselves what we prefer, and we don’t need or rely on judges to make the choice for us.

    • jennrae

      When someone is off-key, and they are being judged, I like for them to be told that their off-key, rather than how brilliant they are. I’m silly that way. It undermines when someone does well when everyone is told they do well.

      • jennrae

        excuse me, “they’re.”

    • DiMi

      Matt, I agree, I find that claim that we need somebody to tell us what to think is insulting. I think criticism is an art form, but I read it for insight, not to be told what to think.

    • Pumpkin

      I think that while there are people that choose to watch AI that can think for themselves, humans by their very nature are social animals, and most humans are more inclined to follow rather than break from a pack, hence the judges’ influence really being a factor for the majority.

      This may or may not apply to all of us (whether we’d like to admit it or not) but there is still a majority that is more influenced by leaders than not. The judges do have a huge influence in the voting and by continuing to straddle the fence, they could actually be the cause of the way voting is going on. By not taking a stand, they are not giving the general voter that additional factor to consider when voting. In the end, the results of the vote could very well be based on other factors that the majority of the voting population make a priority…like the singer’s looks or age…not necessarily if the singer was in tune or not.

      Just my two cents…

  • len

    why are us adults concerned about a show whose singers are voted on by girls 10-16? silly show, silly to watch it.

    • Templar

      Sillier to post about it, then.

  • Alex

    Well said. I do take objection to your opinion that it was the song that got Pia voted off, however. The song was performed on Glee this season and introduced to a whole new generation of people who haven’t heard it before. I do agree that the judges and the voting public are to blame. We’ve seen it happen with other popular contestants before. We get complacent and feel that they won’t need our vote because he/she did so well and will sail through to the next round.

    • Sparkle Cow

      Nigel threw Pia under the bus. A.I. is a clown show. Mooooo!

    • Zach

      The Idol audience and especially voters are are different from the Glee audience though. The Idol audience is much bigger, broader, more current. Lea Michele wouldn’t win Idol either. I DO agree River Deep – Mountain High is a song that takes some getting used to, and Pia came off more like a Supreme doing it than Tina Turner. As has been said, you need to have grit, power, soul, and raw, volcanic energy to make that song work or else it will come off corny on the Idol stage, especially with the rampant OVERPRODUCTION that has been going on this season.

    • DiMi

      Only an idiot with NO SENSE OF RHYTHM OR MUSIC would say Tina’s version of River Deep Mountain High lacks groove. Owen Gleiberman, I’m talking about YOU. That statement undermined your credibility as a critic.

    • Teresa

      I think that was a problem for Pia. The song was done on Glee this year and it was one of the best songs of the season. It was sung as a duet and the girls were jumping all over the room with incredible energy.

      I liked Pia’s rendition, but it wasn’t possible for her to match the Glee performance. Anyone who watched Glee probably did what I did right after Pia sang — youtubed it and watched Amber and Santana take the song to town.

      • Mike

        Teresa- Perfectly good observation about Glee’s duet of that song. I still believe that Pia’s only real mistake was choosing River Deep, Mountain High.
        I certainly don’t buy that Jennifer is a genius for pointing out that Pia needed to connect with the audience more. Stefano is half the singer that Pia is, has had huge connection problems and is still on the show. Lauren has not truly connected with any tune recently, but is given a pass (perhaps because of her age). Pia is not a rocker, a gospel singer, an avant-garde jazz singer, a smirky, dimply country singer or any of those things. She’s a balladeer, and that style is out of vogue right now with the voters of this show. She shouldn’t be break dancing or rapping just to impress some folks who cannot appreciate a wonderful voice. Pia is very much like Rachel on Glee, but the AI voters are so male-oriented and fickle I put no stock in their evaluation of talent at this point. I think Pia was brilliant until her last song, when she stumbled on that one.

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