I recently put together an EW.com gallery looking at Simon Cowell's 12 meanest critiques from the first seven seasons of American Idol's semifinals/finals. But while I was recounting Simon's best zingers -- ones that conjured up images of sinking cruise ships and teenagers locked in their bedrooms and poodles in leather jackets -- a funny thing struck me: Somewhere between David Cook's confetti shower in May 2008 and the Rise and Fall of Bikini Girl earlier this year, the cranky British judge seems to have lost a lot of his mojo.
This isn't to say, of course, that Simon is approaching Randy Jackson levels of "for me for you" hackdom. But think about it: When was the last time Simon pulled out a sparkling one-liner durng a live critique -- one that went beyond the standard-operating "cruise ship"/"copycat"/"dreadful" template? And over the last couple seasons, hasn't he seemed more in lockstep with the producers' preordained favorites, and increasingly less willing to recognize great performances by the show's underdogs? Maybe the guy is not, as he keeps telling us (most recently in The New York Times), at the start of negotiations for even bigger bucks to keep him on Idol's slowly listing (but still totally dominant) warship? Maybe he's really and truly burnt out from juggling his stateside Idol work with his duties on Britain's Got Talent and X-Factor? And if that's the case, would it be such a bad thing if season 9 is Simon's last on the show?
I, for one, think Idol's heart would go on -- yes, it's a Celine Dion reference! -- without Mr. Cranky. To me, Idol has never been about the judges -- their disastrously annoying on-stage entrances this year have made that point abundantly clear -- but rather about the discovery of exciting new musical talent. I love seeing waitresses and pharmacy workers and single moms and chorus members from touring productions of Broadway shows get that seemingly impossible opportunity to make America fall in love with them. And I'm sure the show's producers can use the $36 million Simon reportedly makes on Idol annually to find another discerning, outspoken voice to keep the wheels churning, even if said vehicle only pulls in, say, 19 million viewers in future seasons, rather than the 25 or so million it draws now.