“American Idol” Is Getting Voted Off By Demographically Desirable Viewers

Apr 21st, 2008 // 16 Comments

top6.jpgIt’s bad enough that American Idol‘s latest winner has been diagnosed with a throat ailment that’s probably tied into the show’s insistence of holding up Whitney, Mariah, and Celine as its Holy Trinity Of Divas Everyone Should Emulate. Now the LA Times is raining on the show’s parade even more, saying that even though ratings don’t seem to be down that much overall, they’ve plummeted enough among two key demographic groups–women ages 18-34 and kids ages 2-11–that the show’s producers should be somewhat worried, especially since last week’s episodes had some of the show’s lowest ratings since its first seasons. (That’s what happens when you kick off the resident hottie, even if he does wear ascots.) Is it because people are watching less TV? Are this year’s contestants as boring as Simon Cowell thinks? Or has the public just gotten tired of the Idol machine?

The conventional wisdom among TV producers and their accountants is that hit shows, no matter how popular, usually start delivering diminished ratings somewhere from Season 5 to Season 7. Seen that way, “Idol’s” apparent decline is adhering to form. Some fans are seeing the program as less essential than it was a year or two ago. How many times can Americans see Seacrest insult Simon Cowell, and vice versa, before they say, “Enough already”?

“It would be great if the ratings could stay in the high 20s or low 30s,” said executive producer Ken Warwick, referring to “Idol’s” customary viewership in the tens of millions. “But everything has a sell-by date. Everything.”

Warwick scoffed at Cowell’s notion, quoted in a recent Variety interview, that the show was suffering this year because the contestants lack “personality” and are making “safe” song choices.

That’s not to say, though, that Fox and the producers aren’t going to huddle at the end of the season and talk about making some changes. The network carefully weighs research on audience reactions to “Idol,” Beckman said. This season, executives noticed that the ratings dipped a bit during the audition phase, rebounded during the Hollywood rounds and then dropped to last week’s lows.

“We have to think about how it’s presented,” Beckman said of “Idol,” although he declined to speculate what sorts of changes might be in the offing: “These are questions you naturally ask when a show is in its seventh year.”

I’d argue that updating the musical calibration of the show overall would help–for example, thinking that David Cook’s microwaved grunge is “original” is to be expected for a show that thinks “the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” is a surefire hit to snag viewers, but it may not be the best long-term strategy for moving the show forward into the next decade. Although given that the show does air on Fox–and the network does have an investment in at least keeping it around–what’s more likely than the show suddenly getting out of the Clive Davis School Of Acceptable Pop Music is some sort of hybrid between Idol and its current rising-star game show, The Moment Of Truth. Think of what the Antonella Barba episode would be like!

Ominous signs for ‘American Idol’ [LAT]


  1. dog door

    maybe they should go back to featuring amateurs and forget about these industry castoffs and entertainment lifers. you know, maybe there’s a reason that Carly whatever-her-name’s album only sold 25 copies or whatever… and that -GASP- it might not have been bad marketing!!

  2. loudersoft

    I was watching 30 Rock last week and I believe that Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski’s characer) summed it up best when she said: “If reality TV has taught us anything, its that you can’t keep people with no shame down.”

    What everyone has to remember is that the same 5000 people audition for AI every time they hold auditions. These producers and judges have seen the majority of the people auditioning for the show a great deal — and those people don’t seem to understand that they aren’t any good.

    Since that pool of regulars isn’t getting any better and the producers want to make AI into “good TV”(meaning watchable without catering only to the lowest common denominator), they end up putting these ringers on the show. I am struggling to care about any of these finalists, and I am not alone.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    Taylor Hicks broke the show.
    Taylor Hicks broke the show.

    Said it before, and I’ll say it again.

    Short version of my theory: Idol is very gradually going in the direction of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? back in 2000–started as all-ages phenom, gradually turned into granny fodder (read: demographic poison). It started with Dockers-wearing-fave Hicks, and Archuleta’s seemingly inevitable victory is just the latest evidence.

  4. Mary

    I don’t think it’s that AI is purposely filling the finals with ringers, it’s that AI is considered to be the ultimate star-making vehicle, and its attracting more “established” people. And since those “established” people are disproportionately better than the real amateurs, they end up in the finals in disproportionate numbers as well. Of course, Idol could weed them out, but if it makes for better TV to have contestants with experience they will go for it. Except Carly though…I think her inclusion was jaw-dropping in its inappropriateness. The others I am okay with.

    And I’m not overly familiar with what the ratings have been, but it seems that since AI is still ranked as the top-rated TV show each week, it might be an overall drop in viewership across the board and not just a show-specific decline. Although I am sure the latter is in play as well.

  5. Anonymous

    Alllll this hoopla over a show that is the artistic equivalent of Lauren Conrad’s beef curtains.

    Dave Cook is probably the least sucky thing in all of Idol history….and he still sucks!!

  6. Al Shipley

    I think the show is too afraid to tinker with the ‘magic’ chemistry of the judges like it’s some magic trio, but obviously whatever chemistry they had has long gone stale, and each of them is getting more repetitive with each passing year. And the increasingly weak slate of singers they pick as the top 24 before the public gets to vote is totally on them. It’s a shame Simon’s the only one who has any plans of willingly vacating his spot at the judges’ table anytime soon.

    @Chris Molanphy: I don’t totally buy that. The show always pulled in older demographics in strong numbers, and never had a totally young/hip image — hell, it took Clarkson years to shake off the show enough to have a young/hip image. Even the R&B winners put out records with a very tame grown folks vibe. That’s just how the show is by design. The show has a big audience and they just need to hold it with genuinely popular singers and performances worth talking about the next day.

  7. ObtuseIntolerant

    Wow, that is precisely my household demographics. I feel so DESIRABLE, now!

    And also, we spend all of our extra money on the Jonas Brothers. Sorry, American Idol.

  8. jasonelias

    @Maura Johnston: That’s true, her CD tanked. She still can somewhat on the radar while Taylor Hicks really isn’t.

  9. jasonelias

    Oh wow, early post, sorry for the typos

  10. janine

    @ttalent: If that were true, Chris Daughtry would have won instead of Taylor Hicks.

    I agree that new, younger judges would help. Simon’s the sharpest one of the 3, but still has huge holes in his knowledge of contemporary music and strange biases towards cheesiness.

  11. jasonelias

    @Chris Molanphy: I’ve thought that too about Taylor Hicks. I enjoyed his performances but having him win was a mistake. The prize didn’t go to the rightful winner, Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry showed you didn’t have to win to be successful.

    I also think that Clay losing didn’t help. Ruben Studdard has no career to speak of. With all of these “failures” who cares who wins.

  12. Anonymous

    When the judges continue to tell the idols and the viewing audiences how bad the singing is each week; why will viewers want to tune into a show of bad singers?

    The show is frustrating because the judges are inconsistant in their comments and the favoritism shown toward some idols is just as unforgivable as the obvious manipulations by the producers and the judges to get the outcome they want.

    Randy and Simon are puppets of the producers and board posters are parrots of Randy and Simon. I think Nigel Lythgoe is the puppet master and is laughing his butt off all the way to the bank at America’s gullibility.

  13. Maura Johnston

    “Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry showed you didn’t have to win to be successful.”

    mcphee is more successful at being featured on gossip blogs than anything else, no?

  14. Anonymous

    What about song catalog? I really used to enjoy watching Rock Star because it was kind of the anti-AI.

  15. Anonymous

    i really couldn’t figure out the strategy in voting off Michael Johns so early in the contest. No wonder last week no one watched. We know the numbers are manipulated so why don’t they manipulate them in a way that will keep viewers watching, not scare them away. Make the least appealing person go first each week. That’ll get rid of them.

  16. Manola

    I don’t remember if it was in this blog or somewhere else, but someone made an analogy about football and AI. If you are a football fan, you watch the entire season, not just the playoffs. In AI, we need to watch insufferable auditions with hairy idiots in belly-dancing silks. WTFC?!?!?

    So that’s the first thing that needs to get fixed. I am sure that lots of people that audition are very decent singers. Show them to me and let me root for them. That is the exciting part.

    The second thing is what Croix calls “the obvious manipulations by the producers and the judges to get the outcome they want”. Amen to that. Tonight, it was clear that the judges are positioning everyone for a David vs David finale. Last year it was even more obvious with my hated Jordin Sparks (clip clop, clip clop, cotocloc, Houyhnhnm!!!)

    Chris Molanphy is 100% right: Taylor Hicks broke the show indeed, and Sanjaya pulverized it. I am not offended by the fact that this season’s finalists are all veterans. Veteran or not, Skeletor Brooke choked tonight, and it’s not the first time! Give me people who can sing decent tunes decently. Who cares who they are “plagiarizing”? Are they doing a good job? Am I entertained?

Leave A Comment