After years of judge roulette, producers for American Idol did something they’d never tried before—pulling the plug on the entire panel after season 12. Shocking news over the weekend revealed that one of the producers, Nigel Lythgoe, had also been shown the door.
The problem is that the American Idol ratings dropped from around 17 million at the beginning of season 12 to 11 million viewers, making this last series the worst season ever. It’s fewer viewers than even the first season and a 24 percent drop from the previous year. Where is American Idol going wrong?
One of the biggest issues for American Idol is the judging panel. When the show first started, both Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson were virtually unknown in the United States, and Paula Abdul was a fading star, but the trio were soon a major draw for the show. When Simon left the show after season nine, the competition seemed to become less about the singers and more about the judges and their egos. And while there were certainly some egos in that first trio of judges, stars including Jennifer Lopez, Ellen DeGeneres, Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Kara DioGuardi, and Steven Tyler couldn’t find the right balance of entertaining ego and wise mentoring. The biggest buzz surrounding the show is now the latest firings and hirings, not the contestants or the integrity of the competition.
Back in the days when American Idol ratings would be in the 30 million viewer range, half of the fun was seeing Paula and Simon’s good-natured banter. Contrast that to the all-out diva wars that erupted between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj on and off camera. It seemed like half the show’s teasers were about the Carey-Minaj rivalry, rather than the singers or the competition. In bringing on big-name talent, the producers also brought big egos and a departure from the more wholesome days of the show. The drama surrounding a singer’s rise to fame is enough—viewers don’t need any extra manufactured story lines.
There are more singing and talent competitions on screens now than when American Idol debuted. These newer shows set themselves apart in interesting ways, and some of them remove the cringe-factor, only showing good singers, even in the auditions. Take The Voice, for instance. It’s a little gimmicky with the chairs, but every person who tries out for the show has been previously vetted. That means no awkward singers, no fame grabbers looking to score some screen time, and coaches who really seem invested in their art. When pitted against more innovative shows like The Voice and The X Factor, Idol seems juvenile in comparison.
So, what will boost the American Idol ratings? I’d suggest getting back to basics—practically unknown judges, a drama-free show, and the type of programming that you can watch with your grandma or five-year-old niece. By trying to be something that it’s not, Idol does a disservice to its contestants. Once the show returns to singing, it might fare better. After all, if viewers wanted to watch a couple of divas fight, they could tune into any of the Real Housewives shows.
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