The producers of FOX’s The Next Great American Band, which debuts on Friday, are in an unusual position: To promote their new series, they’re essentially criticizing their other show, reality TV behemoth American Idol, from which the new show gets its familiar format (three judges, top 12, viewer votes, et cetera).
To start, the auditions featured on Friday’s two-hour premiere won’t feature groups that suck. In part that’s because they only auditioned 60 bands that were invited to Las Vegas for that purpose; the rest applied but will be ignored. “What we have got is zany bands — where are they coming from? — rather than being bad. Working in a band, you tend to iron out people who aren’t good and sort of squeeze them out. I didn’t want to do much with the submissions because they are slightly amateur. It’s not a program, I think, where we’re going to be celebrating Sanjaya. We’ll be celebrating the talent,” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said. Of course, that’s the exact opposite of what American Idol does for nearly its first month, showcasing mediocrity for laughs and ratings.
Beyond the auditions, Lythgoe said in a separate interview with the AP that American Idol‘s top 12 aren’t all that obviously talented. In his new show’s top 12, “I can pick out five bands that I can go, ‘Wow, these guys are tremendous.’ You can’t do that with the top 12 Idols. We’re saying to the public, ‘Look at this talent and say you don’t appreciate it.'”
As to their actual performances, Lythgoe told the Washington Post that they won’t be setting them up for failure, like Idol does by forcing a completely different style on their contestants every week. “We’re not asking them to change their style, we’re asking them to change the song,” he said, suggesting that they could be “doing songs that are not necessarily bluegrass music — maybe a David Bowie song — and turning it into bluegrass with a clever arrangement.”
While Lythgoe and the other producers may be talking up their new show by pointing out the weak parts of their other series, FOX has a different attitude, perhaps even one that’s indifferent. For one, the series has been scheduled on Fridays, which seems like they’re setting it up to fail. Lythgoe told the Post, “Am I worried? I think people find programs that they want to watch wherever. If we’re a good show, people will find us.”
With refreshing honesty, FOX’s Mike Darnell told the AP that the two shows are actually incomparable, because the singing competition is so distinct. “You just have to cross your fingers,” he said, saying Idol‘s popularity “doesn’t necessarily translate to the band show. … You can’t compare anything to ‘American Idol.'”