“Rockers unite! On FOX!”
That appears to be the message sent by the producers of “American Idol” after the show hooked Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler to fill the role of departing Idol judge Simon Cowell. Tyler, along with sultry actress and singer Jennifer Lopez, are set to appear as judges when “American Idol” Season 10 kicks off this winter. The move, though, is almost certain to backfire. The addition of 62-year-old Tyler certainly allows the show to bust into an untapped market, one composed predominantly of 30- to 40-year-old men who owned copies of Permanent Vacation in the days before CDs. The move, though, also eliminates one of the key characteristics that Cowell brought to the show and sets up a potential train wreck due to Tyler’s past personal problems, which have included heavy drug use.
Sure, Cowell was the smart-lipped twit, but he also was fairly tame by Hollywood standards. There were few scandals following Cowell around. Those that cropped up usually were the creations of bored gossip TV producers. What Cowell brought to the show was stability. Every week, fans could count on hearing the same guy say, essentially, the same things. Plus, he appeared to hit the bull’s eye on a lot of performers. In fact, he earned a reputation more for his honest and accurate criticism than for his sometimes outrageous comments. And it’s worth noting that, for all of her faults, Abdul managed to stay with the show for eight years before leaving in 2009.
Undoubtedly, Cowell appeared to have an ego problem, but a lot of that likely was created for TV drama. Now, FOX has created a monster with true ego issues. Steven Tyler is not some wealthy TV producer in a T-shirt. He’s a world renowned rock superstar. He is accustomed to people fawning over him and treating him as royalty. He also appears to have few friends. In fact, he took a jab at his Aerosmith band mates, calling them “jealous” because they questioned his decision to appear as an “American Idol” judge. Tyler responded to complaints from other members of the band even as he was being introduced as a new Idol judge during a September press conference. I’m no fortune teller, but logic tells us that a guy who arrives on the scene with confrontation tailing behind him is probably going to bring plenty of controversy to the FOX program. That sets up for some explosive confrontations between Tyler and the show’s producers, who sometimes act more as handlers with their constant micro-managing.
Additionally, Tyler’s presence brings to primetime TV a bit of a loose cannon. He’s not the polished orator that Cowell tried to portray. Instead, he’s a brash and loud aging rocker with a penchant for shocking the public with stage antics and past issues with drug use. Sure, he went through four different rehabilitation centers in the late 1970s and early ’80s, but let us not forget that his problem was so serious that it led band mates Joe Perry and Brad Whitford to depart the scene for a time. In fact, Tyler’s problem was still present in 1983, when he was arrested on cocaine possession charges and later pleaded guilty in exchange for probation and a fine. More disturbing (particularly for FOX producers) is that Tyler entered rehab for an addiction to painkillers in 2009. In fact, Whitford said in 2009 that he believes Tyler still struggles with drug problems.
“This guy has a tremendous history of drug abuse, and you have to be suspicious that this is something that is probably going on with him,” Whitford told rockradio.com.
If ever there was an “American Idol” judge who might make more headlines for his own issues than for his work on the show, Tyler is that guy. And nothing could hurt the “American Idol” brand more. The show is built on the publicity brought by its star performers. When David Cook, Kelly Clarkson and Lee DeWyze owned the stage during their respective seasons, word traveled fast about these truly talented vocalists. The water-cooler chatter brought in more viewers. Unfortunately, the buzz at the office next year will involve something Tyler said or did. This is why Tyler’s role with “American Idol” will end after just one season. That will set up the show for its third straight year of turnover at the judge’s table, and a lot of folks will tune out.