Hey, what is the damn matter with American Idol? Not only has the show been slow and predictable this season (what with inevitable David-on-David finales, dependable judge insanity/obvious favoritism, and Ryan Seacrest bon mots) but it's also getting some of the lowest ratings in its illustrious seven year history. What's going on here? Has America's Favorite Television Show Ever gotten old and increasingly not worth watching? In a word, yes. Simon Cowell thinks this season has been "too safe." Which is, OK, sound logic. Sure it's been safe, but isn't Cowell part of that problem? The judging segments are increasingly canned and repetitive, and showing obvious signs of producer string-pulling. The whole affair is too planned out and scripted. Some would say that, like high-waisted pants or wariness of ethnic people, this is just a sign that the show is twilight years. But, I disagree. I think Idol could last forever. It just needs to make a few changes to get itself back on course.

Mark Harris, an Entertainment Weekly editor and all around smart guy (Tony Kushner won't date no slouch, after all), wrote a funny and dead-on piece on how to fix the troubled extravaganza in this week's magazine that I wholeheartedly agree with. First off, yes, get rid of the odious product placement. Everyone knows that Paula is not drinking Coca-Cola from that Coca-Cola cup (har har). Speaking of Paula, Harris suggests gently getting rid of both the straight up mush mouth and fellow judge Randy "I am Basically King Koopa from Mario" Jackson. Yes. I agree. They are both boring and repetitive and don't really engender any, you know, respect.

Harris also suggests setting minimums on contestants' ages and getting hipper mentors, among other sound ideas. But I think the key to an Idol comeback is really just forsaking the cynicism. I know it's ridiculous to say that one of the gooeyest "A Moment Like Making You Proud, Now" shows on television has an overabundance of cynicism, but it does. Or at least jadedness. Why are we so constantly reminded of how "the game" should be played? What's with all the overt discussion of strategy and comparisons back to previous Idolers? The great thing about this show is that it turns nobodies into somebodies; that it is, at its core, that great American story about bootstraps and whatnot. That should all feel genuine and new every time. It's certainly new for the contestants! The more the show references itself, the more of an isolated irrelevant thing it becomes. Yes, I know it's probably tiring and tedious to feel like you're building the same house every year, but too bad! That's what the audience wants. After all, this isn't Fox's or Cowell's or Seacrest's' show. This is our show. So, heh, give it back.