Today Show Host Kathie Lee Says Aretha Franklin is Too Old to Judge American Idol

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins,

Earlier this week, Aretha Franklin made it known that she would very much like to be a judge on American Idol.  The world did what they normally do when Aretha speaks, they listened.  Aretha is the standard against which most of the artists on American Idol are compared, so why shouldn’t she be a judge for the show?

Today Show Host Kathie Lee Gifford weighed in on the issue, stating that the younger audience for American Idol would be unable to appreciate what Aretha’s legendary status brings to the table.

“If they are looking for a younger demographic, there are a lot of kids out there (who) actually don’t know who Aretha Franklin is. It’s sad, but they don’t,” Gifford said.

Not willing to sit to the side on this issue, Aretha sent another email to CNN defending herself.

“While I enjoy Kathie Lee and Hoda daily, her assessment is totally wrong! I’ve been to California from Detroit four times this year and Florida. I go wherever I choose to go comfortably on my custom bus.

Further, my audience and fans span the age of 8 to 90! And are multi-ethnic, and I am very well known to young adults, tweens and teens. Their parents play my music and I take care of my business whenever I sign on the dotted line! I’m surprised Kathie Lee did not research my worldwide celebrity audience! She’s usually right on top of things with a great sense of humor, but she’s totally wrong this time. She should research me before she speaks about me. I’m sure she thought she was right; still enjoy Hoda and Kathie Lee! I could enjoy being a judge for a season or two. Let’s kick it up a few notches and have a slammin’, jammin’ season.”

I am glad that Franklin stood up for herself on this issue.  While, I am not sure if riding a bus to all of the auditions is possible, it’s important that Aretha speak out against Gifford’s unfortunate and inaccurate remarks.

What Aretha is experiencing is similar to the ostracism being endured by millions of other senior citizens who are consistently told that their time has come and gone.  Their value is diminished before their very eyes, as corporations decide to go with the shiny new 25 or 30 year old whom they deem to be more relevant.  For some reason, our society has decided that after the age of 60, you can’t do anything and you can’t think straight, leaving quite a few Americans feeling unwanted and unappreciated.

The fact is that Franklin might be 70-years old, but she is of able mind and body.  There is no reason that she would not be an outstanding judge for the show.   If the younger viewers of the show are not familiar with Franklin’s legacy, then the solution is simple:   Educate them.  By showing clips of Franklin at her peak and reminding the audience of her achievements, young people can gain an appreciation for the fact that she is like no other.

When I first started watching American Idol, I had no idea why Randy Jackson was a judge and I didn’t know or care who Simon Cowell was (I still don’t).  So, Gifford’s insinuation that somehow Aretha Franklin’s connection with young people doesn’t match up to that of Cowell or Jackson is about as silly as saying that Bill Russell is less relevant to young hoop stars than Dr. Boyce Watkins.  In both cases, there really is no comparison.

Go ahead Aretha, keep speaking your mind.  You’re not only speaking up for yourself, but you are representing every other 70-year old in America who might be tempted to feel that their purpose has been neglected.  You set the bar for American Idol long before the show even existed, so you have every right to sit in that chair as a judge.  Don’t let anybody tell you any different, but based on what I know about you, I’m pretty sure you won’t.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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