I’ve had unkind words for Ellen DeGeneres in the past, but I’m happy go ahead and eat crow right now, because the comedian provided a worthy and downright necessary element to the show during her first appearance on “American Idol” last night.
It was clear, almost from the beginning, that DeGeneres brings a much needed dose of common sense to the panel, and displayed an edge to her criticism and jokes that I’ve always found lacking in her daytime show and during the one time she hosted the Oscars. Ellen managed to goof on contestants who deserved the ribbing, subvert the whole “Project Runway”-style step-forward-and-then-step-back thing, and give honest assessments to the contestants. She’s a welcome replacement for Paula Abdul, and time will almost certainly prove her an improvement.
Because tonight was the American Idol equivalent of a shampoo ad: Not that I needed a helpful animated graphic to outline how season 9 of the nation's favorite talent competition was suddenly getting strengthened from root to tip. It was clear we were benefiting from a much-needed infusion of Ellen DeGeneres (the judging equivalent of jojoba or cocoa butter or some such rich, restorative ingredient)
I have no clue what that means, but it seems positive. Here’s Craig Berman of MSNBC:
As soon as she was introduced, it was evident that she added a needed breath of fresh air to a dynamic that had gotten to be predictable and stale.
And the New York Times:
In just one episode, the new judge Ellen DeGeneres displayed why it’s no stretch at all for her to step into Paula Abdul’s chair. She was witty both in her embraces and her take-downs. “So this is it, huh?” she asked Simon Cowell. “I come on, you leave.” It’s not as unfair a trade as it once seemed.
Even the curmudgeons at the Wall Street Journal enjoyed Ellen’s presence on the show.
Ellen’s humor wasn’t forced and she definitely displayed judging chops.
I think one of the remarkable things about DeGeneres’ appearance on the show was its seamlessness. There was never a moment where you thought she didn’t belong. It seemed as if she had been judging on the show for years. And because “American Idol” is not exactly a comedy show, DeGeneres doesn’t feel the pressure to be “on” at all times, which is an annoying trait many comedians are unable to break. Much of the praise for Ellen was directed around her seriousness. She took the job seriously. Which makes you think, why do they have judges on the show that don’t?
This could be the start of something very promising for TV’s biggest show.