“American Idol” kicked off its 11th season this week, and things didn’t go quite according to plan for Fox’s ratings juggernaut.
Wednesday, viewership for “Idol’s” premiere was down 24 percent from last year’s premiere. On Thursday, things got even worse: Ratings were down 27 percent from last year’s second night, and off an additional 23 percent from the night before.
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE, DAWG?
Well, a couple of things. First off, “Idol” is no longer the only game in town. “Idol” follows “The Voice” (which ran concurrently with “Idol” last season and wrapped in the summer) and fall’s “The X Factor,” which crowned its winner less than a month ago, meaning there’s been no shortage of televised singing competitions on the dial to choose from. And since they’re all essentially the same, with a few tweaks here and there, “Idol” no longer has the floor to itself. (And with “The Voice” coming back in a few short weeks, it will be sharing the spotlight yet again.)
Also, this year sees the return of judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the same judging trio as last season. For the past several years, there’s always been some shifting at the judging table to spice things up and spike viewer interest, but there was nothing new about this group to entice people to tune in.
Furthermore, this marks “Idol’s” 11th go-round, and the bottom was bound to fall out of the franchise sooner or later. It hasn’t completely fallen out yet — Wednesday’s premiere still delivered nearly 22 million viewers — but it’s understandable that the franchise is loosening its grip on the top of the ratings chart.
So now what? Time to throw in the towel? Not quite. “Idol” is already markedly more positive than it has been in years past, with this week’s episodes focusing almost exclusively on authentic auditions, rather than the odorous gag auditions of years past. On Thursday, 10 of the 11 singers showcased were sent through to Hollywood, a far cry from the days when Simon Cowell was cruelly referring to contestants as “bush babies” or when weirdos were singing songs about their pants being on the ground.
The change in tone is welcome, and since no one does this kind of stuff better than “Idol,” the shows have been a pleasure to watch. But now more than ever, the pressure is on for the show to find a solid group of contestants to follow through the season. There need to be some real standouts, because if the show lands on a cast of forgettables, it could face real trouble in the days and weeks to come. (Sidebar: See my ranking of the first 10 seasons, from best to worst, here.)
“Idol” isn’t going away anytime soon. But what this week’s ratings prove is it’s no longer invincible.