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Dancing With the Stars Results: Does Reality TV Still Need Judges?

In a rather surprising twist on Tuesday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars, viewers voted to send actress Maria Menounos home. This was a bit of a surprise since just the day before her performances with partner Derek Hough had earned the highest scores of any pair. That said, the star’s low likeability factor put her on the chopping block. Even if Menounos was able to please the judges, she was still crushed under the weight of an unjust democratic sentiment.

Really, this situation makes one question the use of judges at all. American Idol, a show well past its high-water mark, seems to have already come to this realization: this season’s “judges” spend more time throwing around excessive praise or finding new ways to fit “dawg” into sentences.  Rather than try and make the judge into a serious role, they’re only around so audiences have someone to boo and cheer at -- they are our outlets.

Of course, this really shouldn’t be surprising. The very idea of a “judge,” someone who thinks they can tell us what makes a particular talent or performance good or bad, is naturally a bit repugnant. Alexis de Tocqueville thought of lawyers and judges as being “brought by their tastes toward the aristocracy and the prince” – hardly the tastes of the 21st century. Indeed, we live in the “everyone is entitled to their opinion” generation, and some aristocratic figure, like a “judge”, telling us what to appreciate is out of step with the times. 

Perhaps this is why a show like America’s Got Talent is perfectly alright with throwing a guy like Howard Stern on the panel. Instead of actually having some useful role as a judge, Stern’s addition was treated like a marketing tool – a tactic that, by the way, didn’t seem to play out very well at all. 

It all makes for an interesting state of affairs. Even though the Dancing with the Stars judges offer both criticism and numerical scoring, they have little-to-no actual power to send people home; yet in all of this, we can’t help but feel like some sort of panel is still necessary. It’s as though the judge’s only real function is to validate our opinions and tell us that the person we like did a great job; if they do otherwise, then surely the judges must have made some outrageous mistake. If you think I’m wrong, just listen to all of the “booing” that starts up anytime a negative thing is said during the last stretch of American Idol.

Perhaps, then, Maria Menounos is a sign of the times: be as skilled and talented as you want, but if we don’t like you, we’ll show you the door.

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