Kara DioGuardi’s First Week on American Idol

© 2008 Fox Broadcasting Co/Jack Guy/FOX

American Idol is still a ratings juggernaut but, after seven years, the Goliath is not as mighty as it once was. So, in order to shake things up a bit, the show’s producers called one of our own. Enter new fourth-judge Kara DioGuardi, daughter of former Congressman Joseph DioGuardi, who was born in Scarsdale, grew up in New Rochelle, and attended the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry.

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DioGuardi, 38, is best known for her songwriting—though her most recent hits have been for other American Idol alums and teen stars. (She’s got her byline on Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me,” Ashley Tisdale’s “Be Good to Me,” Hillary Duff’s “Come Clean,” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away.”) Last week she made her Idol debut, critiquing the usual mix of undiscovered and wannabe talent. So, how’d she do? I posed this question to the Internet, which, as usual, had no shortage of opinions. Here’s what they said:

“It didn’t take viewers long to figure out that DioGuardi was hired to up the Mean Girl quotient on Judge’s Row, despite assurances from producers that this season was going to be kinder and gentler than in years past.”

“While she didn’t exactly shake things up, DioGuardi managed to slip right in seamlessly without visibly struggling to find the difficult balance between being supportive and cutting, like some previous temporary guest judges.”

“DioGuardi immediately distinguished herself by throwing down with the willowy woman in the very orange, very small bikini. DioGuardi, a songwriter-producer who also knows how to belt a tune, sang a few bars to show the contestant how it should have been done.”

“DioGuardi proved to be Cowell-like in her ability to be acerbic, mocking a pink cowboy-hatted hopeful who was there to meet her and attempting to have a sing-off with Katrina Darrell, a.k.a. that girl who wore the bikini. I, personally, welcomed the presence of a female judge who didn’t have to tell every XX-chromosomed contender that they looked pretty or had nice hair before critiquing the actual meat of their performance.”

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“Good lord but that new judge is annoying…She’s a brassy songwriter and singer who, in one single episode, asserted herself as the second meanest judge, after Simon. (But his meanness has become sort of boring and banal, hers is at least more unpredictable by sole virtue of us not yet really having any idea who she is).”

And so on.

The truth is, I just don’t see it. I think everyone would like a female Simon Cowell, but Kara DioGuardi is not that person. She just wasn’t that devastating. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. If there was a harmonious opinion among the judges, she was more likely to hang back than add her voice to the chorus. If she needed to weigh in on a particular contestant, she did so honestly, but without the mean-spiritedness of Cowell. Take this judgment, which DioGuardi offered up to a Bon Jovi wannabe trying to escape cubicle life: “To get big in this industry, it takes a lot of hard work, and you haven’t put that hard work in.” She was honest and to-the-point, yes, but ultimately constructive, which is something her critics didn’t give her credit for.

Then again, there’s something more important than critics—the judges’ judges—and that’s viewers. The premiere of American Idol was down ten percent in viewers from last year, but ratings held steady between Tuesday and Wednesday night, something that hasn’t happened on the show since 2004. The Hollywood Reporter takes that as a good sign, writing: “Do viewers like Kara DioGuardi? Is the whole ‘aspirational’ overhaul appealing? Well, if the overnight numbers are any indication, the answers are Yes and Yes.”

 © 2008 Fox Broadcasting Co./Michael Becker/FOX

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