Add vetoes. Sure, the point is to let America decide—if by America you mean tone-deaf, hormone-drenched tweens. So Tamyra Gray gets bounced, while squeaky-voiced crooner John Stevens lingers way too long. Give each judge a onetime veto to overrule the audience’s vote and save a favorite contender.
Swap Anka for Usher. There’s something perverse about making teenagers sing the hits of Paul Anka and Burt Bacharach—songs exiled to dentist-office waiting rooms before the contestants were born. American Idol mints money; why not spend a little of it on licensing songs from, oh, the last decade or so? And while you’re at it, mix up the singing styles. Let’s see a few wannabe Elliott Smiths in among those Xtina clones.
You must confess. Nearly every reality show has a “confessions” room, where participants sound off to the camera. Post-critique interviews are not enough: Add a private cocoon and let the tear-streaked contestants get the final, angry word.