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Is It Too Early To Discusss What May Be Wrong With American Idol?

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bestofWDW / flickr

A few days ago the excitement was building for yet another season of American Idol on FOX.  Season 11 began pretty much like any other Idol season with their stops across America and the singing wannabees taking their shot at fame (in one way or another).  early favorites, unique performances, wild back-stories — seems right on point like any other season, except America may not be paying attention.

The breakdown in the ratings for the first 2 nights of Idol was Good News and Bad News.  On the upside, Idol is still winning in the ratings as Wednesday night’s show produced about  22 million viewers.  That number should put the show in the Top-3 in Nielsen for the week for sure (expect the NFL Playoffs to be #1, and NCIS or Idol to be 2nd).  In the target demographic for Idol with people 18-49 yrs.-old, the show scored a dominating 7.4 rating.

Now the downside shows these numbers are down 5 million viewers from last year, making this the biggest drop in viewership in the show’s history.  When you bring in Thursday night’s numbers, it gets worse – the show drew about 15 million viewers (although they did win the night in the ratings).  What’s going on here?

Is it possible that American Idol could be on its last legs as a show?  Does the lack of mainstream pop hits from its contestants from the last 2 seasons have an effect?  Could The X-Factor, despite doing only average in the ratings, have had more of an effect on this show than many could have expected?

This season will be pressed to find a Pop success story that has been lacking.  Look what happen to Lee DeWyze – winner 2 years ago and a CD that died a very fast death (less than 200,000 copies sold of “Live It Up” – one of the worst sales figures for any former Idol winner).  Last year’s winner Scotty McCreery showed major improvement but no significant pop hit (about 1 million sold of his CD “Clear As Day”, which produced two Top-20 Country hits but shutout at pop).

Meanwhile FOX may have been greedy with The X-Factor coming on board and being a semi-Idol clone with its 2 most popular former judges now on this new show, and no matter what twists they bring in the end its still Idol — a singing competition!  Which brings The Voice on NBC into play as well, which had buzz last year and has created a glut of singing competitions now.

American Idol has not blinked over the competition as they keep to their formula that has worked for over 10 years.  The first 2 nights has already brought some unique performances (Reed Grimm performing the theme to “Family Matters”, while Phil Phillips did Michael Jackson’s “thriller” on his guitar), a child of someone well known (Shannon Magrane is the daughter of Joe, who won a World Series ring as a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 and currently works as a studio analyst for the MLB Network), back stories (like Travis Orlando who told his story in last year’s auditions and has fared worse by dropping out of high school, his mom walking out on the family, getting evicted and living in a shelter with his dad and his twin brother), and some controversy.

An early Idol favorite from her performance, Amy Brumfield wowed the judges on Wednesday night (Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman”), but according to TMZ  Brumfield has racked up six arrests over the last seven years – from trespassing on private property to “extreme intoxication.” TMZ reports that on one particularly booze-filled night in Tennessee, police claim Brumfield “was so drunk, she peed on herself in the lobby of a Baskin Robbins.”  Controversy seems to go with Idol most seasons, but this news cannot help after its downward ratings.

American Idol cannot push the panic button just yet, but it is obvious that the tryout process is lacking something, and the only thing different from past years is Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.  Love or hate them, they made the process entertaining (with all due respect to J. Lo and Steven Tyler).  Should this season not pick up momentum, watch the judges fall out of favor with FOX.

Pressure is more intense than any other season for Idol to succeed on every level.  These early ratings are acceptable, but this level may not be enough for the long term health of the show, and a 3rd straight season without a pop hit will kill the show’s credibility.  We will wait to pass judgement but the first week is a split decision at best.

 

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