Why does American Idol keep undoing changes? (Beatles replaced by more “green mile” drama)

A lot of American Idol 10‘s announced changes have actually not happened, leaving the show with new judges but pretty much the exact same otherwise. The latest change: The new, two-hour Las Vegas challenge episode that airs tomorrow night, featuring contestants being challenged to perform parts of the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show, has been cut down to just one hour, leaving three hours (!) for the judges to painstakingly tell each contestant whether they’ve made it or not.

That “green mile” portion will now consume three hours; executive producer Nigel Lythgoe tweeted, “Because of all the Drama in the #AmericanIdol green mile show we have been asked to cut the Beatles Vegas Challenge to 1 hour instead of 2!!” So yes, 60 contestants singing Beatles songs will be crunched into 42 or 43 minutes instead of an hour and a half.

Nigel later lashed out at viewers who are calling the show out on its focus on drama instead of singing. One person wrote, “Brilliant decision to choose fake made-for-TV drama over the Beatles,” and Nigel responded, “ONLY JUDGE WHEN U KNOW WHAT U R TALKING ABOUT!” Someone else wrote, “less than 1 hour of singing and two hours of drama … Yay, can’t wait,” and Nigel responded, “STOP GUESSING.”

Cutting an hour may seem like a small change, and having an hour of the Las Vegas challenge is something new. But everything else we’ve seen, and that’s coming soon, is very, very familiar. That started with the auditions, which were very similar, from being mean-spirited toward the delusional singers to rubbing our faces in sob stories belonging to mediocre singers.

Nigel initially said there would be no-semi final round. Later that was changed to a top 20; now we’re back to a top 24, just like before. (There was also a report that we’d have a top 15 instead of 10; that no longer seems to be the case.)

There were also supposed to be different kinds of challenges at some point; those appear to have evaporated. And let’s not forgive Fox for reversing its decision to have half-hour results shows.

Of course, we still haven’t seen how the show will integrate mentor Jimmy Iovine (though he was nearly silent during a press conference), and maybe the band will still be demoted. But there aren’t many changes left to undo, unless the producers brought back Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres–not that I think they should do that, because Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez have been pretty great.

So why is this happening? Is it insecurity about the changes, and the possibility they might hurt the show rather than help it? Or have the producers just found a formula that works and are acknowledging that as they return to their well-traveled rut?

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