How are we supposed to stand the wait? There’s still a couple of months to go before Steven Tyler debuts on American Idol, but the world is already impatient to view the carnage. And those first few audition rounds don’t count, because those get taped and edited, and what we’re itching to see is Steven Tyler on live TV. This has the potential to be a spectacular disaster of Hindenburg proportions. I mean, this is the guy who sang the National Anthem at the Indy 500 a few years ago, and decided it would be a hoot to change the words. He was lucky to get out of there with his hide intact, but it was a classic Steven Tyler moment. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing this great man, you know that part of his brilliance is that he has no attention span — his brain zooms from topic to topic, as he jabbers entire paragraphs of surrealist prose poetry, defying you to guess what the hell he’s talking about. But now the plan is for him to concentrate on the same topic for an hour at a time, two nights a week, on live TV? Gosh, what could go wrong?
His fellow rock stars are already bitching — Kid Rock described Tyler’s decision to go on Idol as “the stupidest thing he’s ever done.” Technically, that would be releasing a single called “Falling in Love Is Hard on the Knees,” but the point is still well taken. Slash has said, “It’s really kind of disappointing to me,” though Slash was a good sport on Idol when he jammed on “School’s Out” with Adam Lambert and Alison Iraheta. But any Aerosmith fan has to be pissed. You don’t run out on your band, especially when the band is [Aerosmith /artist/aerosmith] and they’ve been putting up with your antics for 40 years. It offends the rock-star code. It’s bad enough when you ditch the band to make solo albums — but when you quit to keep Paula Abdul’s chair warm? Who the hell is giving this man career advice? Who walks away from a world-conquering rock band to be a rookie game-show host?
On Idol, Steven Tyler will be sitting at a table with two other judges, and part of his job will be keeping his yap zipped while they talk. This makes no sense at all, since Tyler has zero yap-zipping skills. Even when it’s not his turn to sing, he can be counted on to twirl the mikestand, play harmonica, get fellated by the front row, yell “bippity bippity skow-yippity-pow!” or whatever else he can think of to hog attention while Joe Perry is trying to play the guitar solo. Letting other people share the spotlight, even for a few seconds at a time, is not what Tyler can or should be doing. Not once in his professional career has he heard the words, “Excuse me, Mr. Tyler? Somebody else is talking right now,” or “Hold on a sec, Mr. Tyler, the kid is still singing.”
That’s his greatness and his glory. That’s what makes him Steven Tyler. We want a Steven Tyler whose mouth is in constant go-go-go mode. But now he’s supposed to sit there with his hands folded like his get up and go just got up and went? Listening to other people sing? Dreeeeam ooooon!
Let’s break it down in math terms. In the past 40 years, Tyler has logged thousands of hours onstage. How has he spent that time?
Singing with it: 92%
Singing for the year: 2.6%
Singing for the laugh 2.87%
Singing for the tear: 2.529%
Shutting up: .001%
Yet shutting up is going to be how he spends all but a few moments on American Idol. Gentlemen, this is madness.
Last year, when Aerosmith were said to be breaking up, how did Tyler respond to the controversy? A well-thought-out public statement? A gesture of solidarity with his long-suffering bandmates? Ah, no. He opted to show up unannounced at a Joe Perry gig, crash the stage for “Walk This Way,” make a dumb joke (“I am the rainbow!”) and disappear. The team-player software was never installed on this man’s hard drive. His specialty, as he put it in “Toys in the Attic,” is: “Leaving the things that are real, behiiiiiiind!”
Speaking of real behind, the other new judge is Jennifer Lopez, who I’m sure won’t inspire Tyler to say anything inappropriate. Lopez is kind of a blank slate, because she’s an actress who’s fanatical about privacy, and has barely ever said more than a few non-scripted words at a time. But the idea that Lopez is going to give other people singing advice is inherently hilarious. If you’re under 30, you’ve probably never heard Lopez sing, but a decade or so ago, she had a slew of Top 40 hits like “I’m Real” that completely redefined sucking. The radio hasn’t touched these songs since they came out, but at the time, they got saturation airplay in one of history’s most famous payola scandals — the New York attorney general’s office found that it took $3600 to get a J. Lo song played on the radio 63 times. (And this for the lady who sang “My Love Don’t Cost a Thing.”)
When Lopez was an Idol guest a few years ago, she was dropping the Scientology buzzword “rightness,” so she might have a few “Xenu take the wheel” moments on this gig, but basically, she’s a Hollywood diva with a thin skin. Everybody remembers when she stormed out of the MTV Video Music Awards because Triumph the Insult Comic Dog asked to sniff her butt. Putting up with people who are obnoxious is not her specialty. Now she’s going to be sitting next to Steven Tyler. Brilliant!
We can all predict that Lopez will be dour and prissy, while Randy Jackson will be banging his head against the desk and wondering why he’s the one left behind. But it’s Tyler who people will be tuning in to see. And he’s the reason why Aerosmith is the only band in history where four out of the five guys have gotten pegged as “the quiet one.” As Brad Whitford told Rolling Stone in 2001, “Steven Tyler makes a lot of people seem quiet, you know? I mean, he is The Mouth. So it doesn’t bother me when people call me the quiet one. I just think, hey, you try it.” Well, that’s exactly what American Idol is going to try. And I can’t wait.