I confess it has been years since I watched "American Idol", but certainly I absorb enough pop culture that I was aware of the changes to the judging panel. I read this article about the loss of the mean judge and I see it's point, but I don't think it's the nice that's the problem. On "Project Runway" Tim Gunn is nice, but he also is able to ask critical questions. He makes a point to focus on things that are changeable, and certainly, he is not one of the judges, so there are times when the things he says are not things the judges take issue with, but nonetheless he offers useful critique.
If we restrict ourselves to the singing side of things, "The Sing-Off", the a capella reality show had three judges this year who all offered useful critique, talking about things like song interpretations, arrangements and use of dynamics, all things that the group could choose to change or work on or not. Now they also focused on things that each group did well, so sometimes it seemed like a whole batch of nice, but certainly there are going to be some performances where you go, aw, all I remember is yay. And that's fine too.
But, as has been pointed out, if all you get is nice all the time, it's kind of defeats the purpose of placing these things in competition, if everything is awesome, then why are we trying to pick the best, clearly everything is the best.
And certainly "Top Chef" recently had an episode where the judges told everyone it was a great meal overall, so they were going to have to nitpick to send someone home, and some days that's what happens. But when it happens everyday, it starts to feel like you've wandered into a bad parody of a car dealership, where everything is the best, safest, coolest and fastest car available.
h/t to the NPR MonkeySee blog for the link