By today, most everybody in TV America knows what a Kara DioGuardi is.
The fourth, newest, and most inexplicable judge of television's most popular part-time series, American Idol, made her debut Tuesday as the singfest returned with its hilarious, can't-miss "cattle call" audition phase in a two-night premiere that concludes tonight (8 p.m. Jan. 14, FOX2 in Detroit).
"You know, I never in a million years imagined that I would be a judge on American Idol," admitted DioGuardi, an award-winning songwriter and producer, in a phone conversation last week, echoing the reaction of millions of the show's zealous fans. "So when I got that call it was really an honor, and in some ways I felt like I hit the lottery."
Ya think? Zooming overnight from anonymous music biz pro to featured decision maker on a national TV obsession goes far beyond (as a relative used to say) falling with your ass in the butter; DioGuardi is practically immersed in margarine. But the question is, why?
Idol's ratings dipped a bit last year, but after the lengthy writers' strike nearly every other show did, too. Nearly 32 million viewers watched David Cook nip David Archuleta in last season's Idol finals, helping FOX become the country's most-watched network for the first time, so it's not as if America's pop star-making machine is broken. Nevertheless, as the eighth season begins, producers (Mr. Nasty McEvil, Simon Cowell, chief among them) felt a need to hit the show's refresh button.
Thirty-six hopefuls will make it to the competition's semifinal round instead of the customary 24, and the judges' "wild card" option has returned. The biggest tweak of all, however, is DioGuardi, whose songs reportedly have been heard on more than 100 million records. Nobody can accuse them of going after a household name. "This is what I do every day," said DioGuardi, who has worked with Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, among other Idol alums. "I look out for talent. I help them in the studio. I produce them. That's my life. I live for that, and this just felt like a natural extension."
It doesn't seem natural. No other reality series with a judging component features an even number of judges. In case of a tie, Cowell will cast the deciding vote; that should go over big with viewers. It's possible the addition of DioGuardi could go down as the "jumping the shark" moment in American Idol's history.
Know what I think? I think DioGuardi's arrival is a none-too-subtle warning to Paula Abdul to stay in line and out of the headlines this season. Any publicity may be good publicity, but no member of the Idol ensemble has received more negative press the past few seasons than Abdul, from an alleged affair with a contestant to her troubled past and physical ills. If the public warms to DioGuardi this year, don't be surprised to see a three-judge panel again next year. I'm just sayin'.
Meanwhile, DioGuardi has to adjust to her new life in the glare of Idol worship. "Actually, I haven't slept today," she said. "I just flew in. I was working with Colby Clay in Hawaii, so I've been up almost 48 hours now. I'm still trying to keep it going."
As is American Idol. But will four be a crowd?
Surfing: Among other January premieres or returns I'm eager to see, Damages (10 tonight, FX) looks nastier than ever, action-packed series The Beast (premieres 10 p.m. Thursday, A&E) stars Patrick Swayze (how can that be?), 24 (8 p.m. Mondays, FOX) still makes you thankful for commercial breaks to catch your breath, and Lie to Me (premieres 9 p.m. Jan. 21, FOX) could be the coolest new show of 2009 so far.
Over the holidays FOX2 unveiled its Fanchon 2.0, Anqunette Jamison, as the new co-anchor for its all-local morning news spectacle. We'll withhold judgment on Jamison, previously with the FOX affiliate in Boston, until she gets over her obvious new-market jitters, but it's interesting she arrived with her own ready-made nickname, "Q". There's something kind of, you know, weird about a TV newcomer who starts dropping a pet name before you even get to trust their credibility. Devin Scillian didn't hit town saying, "Call me Devo." And "Q," at that: Is she making gadgets for James Bond on the side?
Rob wuz jobbed: If those miserable Detroit Lions press conferences weren't televised, Rob Parker still would be a lead sports columnist in Detroit. For FOX football bumblehead Terry Bradshaw, of all people, to call Parker an idiot on national TV was an insult to idiots everywhere, but Parker's question to now-fired Lions coach Rod Marinelli about his defensive coordinator and son-in-law Joe Barry was blown out of proportion because of the video element. It was classic Parker — cocky, brusque, envelope-pushing — but it was appropriate. You hang in there, Rob; you'll be all right.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org