Once more, then American Idol goes idle

By Quinton J. Hobson

Original American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and tough critic Simon Cowell.
Original American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and tough critic Simon Cowell.

At this time every year, network executives – the most powerful people in TV – gather to determine which shows will be live for another season and which will be axed or canceled prematurely.

The end of the 2014-15 viewing season has definitely had its share of casualties but arguably none more impactful than the impending conclusion of American Idol.

As host Ryan Seacrest would often say to eliminated contestants, “It’s the end of the road.”  But this time around the tables have turned. It’s the end of the road for American Idol itself.

Current Idol judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, host Ryan Seacrest, and Harry Connick Jr.
Current Idol judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, host Ryan Seacrest, and Harry Connick Jr.

On Monday, Fox announced that 2016’s 15th season of American Idol will ultimately be its last.

Although technically not a cancellation but simply a friendly warning that the show is about to wrap up, news that the reality singing competition responsible for altering the course of both the television and music industries forever – and birthing such talented acts as Ruben Studdard, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks – is soon to be no more is definitely big news. But not particularly shocking news.

It’s no secret the show has slowly but surely been declining in popularity due to a number of factors since its 10th season. When American Idol debuted in 2002 and made household names of Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and the notoriously blunt Simon Cowell, its original trio of judges, ratings were rather lacklustre but the show itself was praised.

However, Idol soon proved itself a runaway success with its second season, eventually transforming into a TV juggernaut, unrivaled in viewership for close to a decade, while spawning a string of copycats.

The show appeared virtually immortal until around its ninth season when things began to change rapidly.

Singer-dancer Abdul left the show due to irreconcilable differences between her and Fox and was soon followed by Cowell who left at season 10 to focus on a series of other talent competitions. Idol has struggled to maintain its locomotion since.

For the next two seasons, musician Jackson remained on Idol while the panel sporadically transformed around him as Fox frantically searched for Cowell and Abdul’s replacements to salvage ratings, from comedian Ellen DeGeneres to musician Steven Tyler and actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, none of whom lasted more than two seasons.

Joining Jackson for Idol’s 12th season were country crooner Keith Urban, singer Mariah Carey and rapper Nicki Minaj. The show temporarily received a ratings spike but for the wrong reasons; what few fans American Idol had left only tuned in because they were much more interested in following Carey and Minaj’s bitter onscreen feud than the contestants themselves.

Season 13 saw the most change, with Jackson demoting himself from judge to mentor and Carey and Minaj leaving, while Urban was joined by musician Harry Connick, Jr. with Lopez returning. With the panel remaining unchanged for the show’s current 14th season, American Idol ratings have actually come full circle but not in a good way; the show’s viewership nearly mimics the unremarkable ratings of its first season and Idol’s 14th lineup of aspiring singers is being panned as its most uncharismatic yet.

The reasons for Idol’s painfully slow demise vary from source to source.

Producer Nigel Lythgoe blames Carey and Minaj’s feud, telling Billboard, “Mariah and Nicki was just crazy and then it really started becoming about the judges and took away from the contestants altogether.”

Other critics blame the loss of Cowell’s constructive criticism. Lastly, some choose to hold the success of Idol itself responsible because the show’s revolutionary format paved the way for similar reality competitions viewers now choose to watch instead, namely The Voice.

Although host Seacrest has voiced that he is sad to see American Idol go, he need not worry about being unemployed because he continues to host practically everything under the sun.