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Appiphilia: Forget Adam Lambert and Kris Allen. You're the next American Idol

May 20, 2009 |  3:28 pm


Behind the scenes of "American Idol" during Season 2 in 2003. Credit: David Strick / For The Times

Soon, the seats in Idoldome will empty. The elaborate set will be dismantled. And the haunting strains of the singers and synthesizer that begin "American Idol" will become a mere echo. 

What's a couch-bound Idol addict to do until January? Apparently, Electronic Arts and the producers of the popular variety show competition think you should try your hand at sliding your way into the "American Idol" top spot with a new iPhone app: American Idol: The Game. This is the show's second foray into the app world.

Initially, when I saw the game, I cleared my throat and sat up straight. My hope was that you'd somehow have to sing into your phone, like a karaoke version of the Ocarina app, and do battle with friends and judges.

Unfortunately, I have to wait a bit longer for that dream to come true. This game is more about timing, agility and the accelerometer than tone, interpretation and meter. 

But when the app launched and I saw that Idol opening sequence, with the faces of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks and my all-time favorite, David Cook, flashing by, it gave me hope that this game might fill the emptiness left by the season's close.

Here's how we voted for the American Idol game. After the break (I mean the jump) ...

Mzl.hemvipvp American Idol: The Game ($2.99)

What it is: A tilt-and-tap game wrapped up in a super-sized serving of "American Idol" nostalgia. You can play full seasons from audition to finals, or quick rounds -- lil' rounds, if you will. In addition to hitting the notes, you can get points by accomplishing tasks that boost your style, fame or talent.

What sizzles: First off, Ryan Seacrest is in your iPhone. (That might be a fizzle for some, but for Idol fans it's like a big helping of ice cream or mashed potatoes -- comfort food.) His halting "This. ... Is American Idol" greets gamers. Clips from the show are interspersed at the appropriate levels with comments from Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. You even get your very own "Welcome to Hollywood, baby!"

The game plays a bit like the union of Tap Tap Revenge and Super Monkey Ball. At first glance, it looks a lot easier than it was for me. Your star literally has to rise and fall to hit the notes, again literally. Since the targets don't correlate with where the notes truly appear on the screen (a lower note could be higher on the screen than a higher one before it, for instance), anyone with musical training will have to suppress their natural inclinations to do well at the game.

In the tutorial -- the audition phase -- you get to experience the pain of the judges. The singing there is slightly tormented, and you are introduced to some odd characters that you encounter throughout the game.

You get points for how you reply to the judges, fellow contestants, fans and reporters.

The judges offer you comments on your performance. And not everything is rosy. I got dissed a couple of times. Randy wasn't "feelin' it, dawg." And ever-supportive Simon said, "It just wasn't anywhere near as good as the last two weeks."

The arrangement of the notes does provide you a bit of a challenge. If you don't hit them, there is no voice. And how sad is a song without a voice?

Despite encountering the same 10 songs a few times, I never quite mastered the "Material Girl" track.

What fizzles: First off, the game is fat. It's a whopping 412 MB, and the download takes quite a while. It integrates tons of video clips from the show and has its own video menus to work your way through the game. So that excuses its girth. 

Despite all the familiar features and the fact that the opening looks exactly the same, the music you hear when the app launches sounds completely unfamiliar. It's a bit of a letdown. But what the game lacks there it makes up for in cheese. Cheesy characters, lines and music are served up in decent helpings here. All mostly tongue in cheek.

A fizzle for my editor, who has a tiny Idol crush, is that there's no Kara DioGuardi in this game -- just Randy, Paula and Simon. (One might wonder whether that bodes anything for her future, but clearly the elves have been working on this for a while, piecing appropriate video clips together. And she got to the show only this year. All of the clips were from previous seasons.)

Ultimately, the game gets tedious. The season version of the game, I suppose, must be meant to be played a week at a time -- that way you probably wouldn't get tired of the 10 tracks you hear over and over again. At about the top-six mark, in fact, I had hoped to get voted off myself -- I mean, I'd made it into the top 10, so we're already going to go on tour, right? Plus, I really wanted to take characters Michael and Blessing with me too. The others aren't nearly as annoying.

It took so long to get through the game that I figured the show's Season 8 winner might actually have a platinum album before I finished it. Finally, after I put in all the effort and time to tilt my way into the top two, I was a tad put out that I was voted off and didn't make it into the final. To have to go through all of that again hardly seems worth it. I think I'll stick to quick play.

One blessing is that you can turn off the background music and still enjoy most of the game. And at least you can tap through the cut scenes and tasks.

Note to the developers: What might be fun is to get to play other people either via Wi-Fi or over the Internet in mini-rounds and let others vote. Have Simon hurl random insults, Paula bestow affirmations and Randy toss a dawg a bone or two.

Bottom line: I still am pulling for an interactive karaoke version of an "American Idol" game. But at least this one, with hearty helpings of Ryan and the judges, takes long enough that it can get fans through the long dry season until Idol returns. Then again, you could just hit the Top 10 tour or replay the shows stored on your DVR instead.

-- Michelle Maltais

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