Why ‘The Voice’ is beating ‘American Idol’ in TV ratings

Judges Shakira and Adam Levine embody the chemistry that draws viewers to 'The Voice." Photo: Trae Patton, NBC.

SAN DIEGO, April 24, 2013 – Fox Network’s “American Idol” set the gold standard for reality singing shows, and all reality talent shows of TV for that matter. Its ratings slaughtered the competition so viciously other networks gave up trying.

Not anymore. There’s nothing hotter on TV right now than Idol’s biggest rival, “The Voice.”

For the first time last week, the Monday and Tuesday airings of “The Voice” drew the most total viewers, beating runner up “Dancing With The Stars” for the second week. “The Voice” is consistently beating “American Idol” both in total overall viewers, and in the coveted adult 18-49 category, the ones advertisers love.

The average age of the audience is younger for “The Voice” compared to “American Idol,” a median age of 45.9 for Voice, 53.4 for Idol.

“The Voice” drew a season high 14.45 million viewers for the first time on April 15, up against coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that day. “American Idol” drew 12.71 million viewers; the average has been between 11 and 12 million viewers.

Since the premiere, Idol’s ratings have mostly dropped, save for a slight rise last Thursday. It’s the opposite for Voice; its ratings have increased ever since the premiere, hitting an all time high for the show last week.

The steady decline of Idol’s ratings and the critical beating it has suffered over the last few years pains its fans and admirers. It’s perplexing and it’s troubling.

The fans are sending a message loud and clear: “American Idol” isn’t the blockbuster must-see reality TV singing show it used to be. No one should be happy about this, because of the one thing the show does better than any other reality TV show of any kind: finding real stars.

When one show can produce Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Katherine McPhee, Daughtry, Adam Lambert, and last year’s Phillip Phillips, whose single “Home” was one of the big hits of the summer thanks to exposure during the 2012 Summer Olympics, it’s doing something right.

But the TV shows themselves don’t really benefit from the successes of their artists, so while Idol has bragging rights here, it’s all about the ratings for the TV network, so no one at NBC is unhappy.

"American Idol" judges (L to R) Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban suffer in comparison to their counterparts on "The Voice" due to a lack of chemistry. Photo: Fox
“American Idol” judges (L to R) Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban suffer in comparison to their counterparts on “The Voice” due to a lack of chemistry. Photo: Fox

Fox can’t keep pointing to this track record with Idol; it needs to produce viewers, week in and week out. It’s not. What should Idol do to restore its former ratings glory? Our recommendations:

1.     Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

“American Idol” should take the year off instead of doing a Spring 2014 show to rethink its format, and allow its fans to miss it a little. It might consider broadening its horizons rather than focusing on singers who fall into the big ballads and pop categories, singers who are all quite young. What about an “American Idol: Bands” edition for groups?

2. Better ratings through chemistry.

The judge issue is a significant problem for Idol. The stars who agree to be reality TV judges are a large part of the entertainment value. Viewers need to enjoy spending time with them.

This is where “The Voice” is light years ahead of “American Idol.” Who would you rather invite into your home to hang out? Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Usher and Shakira, or Keith Urban, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey?

Watching Idol this season, you can be a fan of Nicki Minaj or Mariah Carey as individuals, but watching them together is just painful. Minaj’s antics, non sequiturs, tardiness and trashiness like flashing her thong on live TV aren’t even train wreck funny. Carey has plain shut down. Idol needs to find some people with chemistry among them and fast.

3.     Improve the song selection.

The more serious issue for Idol versus Voice is song clearance. Clearance means the show has to pay the person or company that owns the performance licensing rights to a song for a singer to perform it on the air. Idol suffers from a limited clearance list, leaving it sounding old and repetitive. Singers keep getting crammed in the same box, compared to predecessors who have already used the same material. They end up singing older songs they don’t really know and aren’t a good fit.

During Idol’s “Beatles Week” competitors could choose from a list of just 20 songs. Some were obscure. Many of the contestants are too young to know them. Compare this to “The Voice,” where the song list has included current chart hits, quirky favorites and cult classics. This season alone we’ve heard songs by LMFAO, Bruno Mars, Pink, Mark Cohn, Ne-Yo, Shakira, Johnny Cash, Luis Fonsi, Jessie J, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Willie Nelson, Rihanna, even “Safe and Sound” from “The Hunger Games.”

Angie Miller (left) with Adam Lambert on 'American Idol.' Photo: Fox
Angie Miller (left) with Adam Lambert on ‘American Idol.’ Photo: Fox

Clearance costs a lot of money but come on, producers, loosen the purse strings. Music is still at the heart of these shows. A broad, quirky song list keeps my attention as a viewer. Watching “The Voice,” you often say “wow, what a fresh/fun/unusual choice!” when watching.  There hasn’t been a single “wow” over a song on “American Idol” all season with one exception: when Amber Miller sang and played her own original composition. It made all the difference. When the singers perform a song that fits, they understand and relate to, the performance is far better.

4.     Fewer sob stories and train wrecks

The audition shows on “American Idol” seem endless. Every contestant seems to have some dramatic, sad backstory. Are there no perfectly well adjusted, happy people at the auditions? Leave the train wrecks to “America’s Got Talent.” If we never had another William Hung or “Pants On The Ground” it would be wonderful.

At the risk of seeming to contradict this advice, “American Idol” need not become a copy of “The Voice.” But Idol has become plain boring and that’s the greatest sin on TV. Idol judges seem to be doing a job; Voice judges seem to be having a great time. Idol lacks energy; Voice is all about energy. On Idol, it all seems to have been done before; on Voice, there are still surprises.

So come on, “American Idol.” Figure out a way to become fresh again, and the viewers will be back, dawg.

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 in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

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