How Fox should fix American Idol’s falling TV ratings

American Idol judges
It will take more than refreshing the judge lineup to reboot "American Idol." Photo: Fox.

SAN DIEGO, January 29, 2014 – After 2013’s disaster of a season with singer/rapper Nicki Minaj front and center, the reality competition TV series “American Idol” which once ruled the airwaves found itself in free fall.

Time to clean house. The producers were replaced. Judge Randy Jackson left. The rambling Minaj and her dull counterpart Mariah Carey were replaced by returning fan favorite Jennifer Lopez, and singer/actor Harry Connick Junior. The affable Australian country star Keith Urban stayed on as the third judge. Host Ryan Seacrest was also retained.

The new producers had a golden opportunity to put fresh touches on the pioneering show’s format and competition, but so far it seems the only significant change has been allowing the singers to accompany themselves on instruments. We’ve seen this for several seasons now on “The Voice.” It’s not a bold move.

Even the choice of judges is meant to replicate the chemistry and good-natured banter audiences love among the judges on “The Voice,” with the bromance between Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, spiced up with the revolving cast of Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green in the fall, and Shakira and Usher in the spring.

Both changes merely highlight this reality: “American Idol” has become an imitator, not an innovator.

Fox is in serious trouble with Idol. Producers don’t seem to know what to do to fix the situation. In the middle of last season, the show dropped to a low of 12.7 million viewers who watched last week, the lowest ratings for the show since it came on the air in 2002. Ratings for the “American Idol” finale plunged to a record low for the 12-year-old show.

According to Nielsen Company figures, Candice Glover’s win was watched by 14.3 million viewers. The previous season, 21.5 million viewers saw Phillip Phillips claim the “Idol” crown. It was a one-third drop from what was the show’s previous record low finale audience. The drop among viewers between ages 18-49, the viewers advertisers most crave, was 44 percent.

Between 2003 and 2008, over 30 million people were watching American idol every week, sometimes way over. The ratings have been sinking ever since, especially the last two years after the arrival of “The X Factor” and “The Voice.” Now ABC is getting into the act, bringing the smash hit competition series “Rising Star” to the United States from Israel, where 58 percent of all households watched its recent finale. “Rising Star” lets voters view via a mobile app on acts in real time. Competitors and the audience see the votes coming in.

American Idol audition by Steven Curd
It’s time to do more with this show than allow instruments in the auditions. Photo: American Idol/Fox

In its 2014 debut on January 9, “Idol’s” ratings were down 18 percent overall and 30 percent among viewers 18 to 49 over its debut a year ago. To be fair, the show still drew the biggest audience for any show broadcast that evening, 13.53 million viewers overall.

Two nights earlier, the CBS ratings powerhouse “NCIS” drew over 20 million viewers, and 19.5 million viewers the following week. Broadcast TV audiences are still there for the taking, but they are saying no thanks to this year’s edition of “Idol.”

“American Idol” is under enormous pressure to find a real star this season. Its biggest names are from earlier seasons: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jordin Sparks, Katherine McPhee, Adam Lambert and Jennifer Hudson. Its biggest star of recent seasons came in second: Adam Lambert, who was reported the third highest earning “Idol” alumni in 2013, behind Underwood and Clarkson, with Philip Phillips fourth.

It’s time for something more than swapping out crazy-making judges and handing a few singers a guitar.

“Idol” needs to reinvent itself. Our suggestion: Scrap the solo singers. Let bands compete. From folk duos to hard rockers, rappers and DJs, to country and pop groups, let them all go at it in the same competition format. Find the nation’s next great band. No one else is doing it. Let “American Idol” step in.

At least it would get America’s attention instead of a parade of bad auditions followed by the same Whitney Houston ballads.

If Fox is too timid to abandon the old “Idol” entirely, then try it in the off-season, during the summer, with a different set of judges. Do not bring back Steven Tyler. Get us Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, or Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters. Or the French guys from Daft Punk, complete with the helmets.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine and Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

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Copyright © 2014 by Falcon Valley Group


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  • Mateja Praznik

    All these talent shows have set formats. Pop Idol format was created as a
    singing competition for solo singers. The same format was used for Idol
    versions all around the world and this idea just shows that the writer
    of the article is completely clueless.

    Whenever you try to make a big change like that you have to be careful because you could get sued by the creator of another talent show. Before Pop Idol there was another
    show Popstars that was all about manifacturing groups (girlbands,
    boybands, mixed groups, individual singers auditioned and were put in a
    band) and the creator of Popstars sued Simon Fuller because of the name
    “Pop Idol”. That’s why Idol versions outside of the UK had different
    names. American Idol is just the local version of Pop Idol, so it could
    hardly be called “an innovator”. FOX has to follow the Idol format playbook.

    At this point it would be pointless to change the Idol format. Idol was in
    most countries around the world replaced by X Factor and The Voice, so
    the format is in it’s twilight. It would be better to make a new show
    and start over.

    Considering how many fans get disappointed every year with small cosmetic changes, it’s clear Simon Fuller has no wish to change the Idol format in a significant way.