Idlewild: The Slow and Painful Death of ‘American Idol’

Posted March 14, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in HiDef

Grab the Kleenex: the last days of Idol are here. And don’t you dare blame it on the alcohol

When Nicki Minaj showed up late for the live show this Wednesday, that should have been the handwriting on the wall.

At the top of the program, Idol host Ryan Seacrest stated that the “Super Bass” singer/rapper was stuck in L.A. traffic. He even echoed some of his comedic skills on-air. “Which one of you gave Nicki the wrong directions today?,” he asked. “Which one of you drained the fuel from her car?”

Access Hollywood host Billy Bush (@billybush) tweeted about the punctuality of absentee, or the lack thereof.







The show is definitely sagging in ratings. That’s when you compare it to its glory days. It still leads in the block that it’s in, but news is starting to leak that Duck Dynasty, a reality-TV show on cable that follows the lives of Southern-bred redneck hunters, is giving Idol a run for its money. It’s even produces the highest volume of Tweets and viral interaction on social networks. According to Trendrr.TVBlufin Labs and Social Guide, the series premiere had more total activity across all major social media platforms than any other telecast on television for the night, with both episodes ranking #1 and #2 ahead of American Idol.

Making matters worse from a holy POV; the Bible-toting Bible series on the History Channel, which airs on Sunday, is also challenging  Idol in the ratings.

Last year, the “search for the next pop star” show lost its eight-year-old title as the most-watched series on U.S. television when it fell behind NBC’s Sunday Night Football. And the news continued to grow sour as its ratings slipped again when the 12th season began in January, with season-to-date viewership down roughly 20 percent overall in the most-important 18-to-49 age group that advertisers most want. It’s disappointing to read that when you’ve realized just how much money they’ve pumped into the newly revamped judges panel and the latest interactive features, including the online “super vote” option.

Among 18- to 49-year-olds, Idol on Wednesday ranks third this season behind Sunday Night Football and the CBS hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. As for the Thursday broadcast, Idol comes in sixth, with ABC comedy Modern Family in fourth place and Monday night’s The Voice at number 5, according to ratings data provided by Fox, a unit of News Corp. “You look at the declines and you get a little bit concerned when you see double-digit drops,” said Jason Maltby, who purchases commercial time for advertisers.

During the golden zenith of Idol, the show could rack in 30 million viewers on any given night. Now the show is dragging an average of 16.5 million viewers.

In other Idol-related posts, we’ve talked about the show’s age, the lack of a Simon Cowell-esque presence, the failure of real professional grooming and the tough transition from on-screen phenomenon to international superstar due to sagging record sales; problems that have plagued the show in the past. But what are the show’s problems this season? Some thought the Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey beef would be enough to attract viewers to this season’s earlier episodes, but it ended up producing close to nil.

The lack of strong, groundbreaking talent is a start.

Earlier this week, I ranted this (in its entirety) on my Facebook wall:

“Y’all. I ain’t going to lie. Being the curious pop culture freak I am, I saw some of the performers from this season’s American Idol on the other day. I am so glad that I stopped watching that show. From the ones I heard, not one of those singers impressed me vocally. And everyone is oversinging. And acting like Kim Burrell on crack. Lazaro (Arbos) is a cutie; I give him that. But haven’t we heard this kind of vocal done in pop music before? And by golly, many of them lack strong stage presence. I’m like Whoopi Goldberg when she discussed the show’s judges last week: Are they deaf? #jmattspeaks”

Yes, Whoopi spoke about the calamity of unimpressive vocal talent now facing Idol. She took a strong disliking towards ‘Jungle’ queen and Idol castaway Zoanette Johnson, who the Idol judges praised all the way into the finals. But The View co-host also decided to blast the judges’ lack of hearing. For those at home, we had to endure hearing Johnson murder “What’s Love Got to Do With It” with epic proportions, and turning The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life” into an Off-Broadway anthem that was way off. And who could forgive the torture of her impromptu drum solo?

And then there was this natural disaster from Charlie Askew to skewer with:

While switching from network to network this week, I ran across Amber Holcomb, who tried belting Kelly Clarkson’s Idol swan song “A Moment Like This.” Apparently, this was one of those special theme night when anxious Idol finalists assume the position of Idol winner, singing songs that feel more like exit-pop songs. “The girl that sung “Moment Like This” was sharp and flat in places,” I wrote on my Facebook page. “She ain’t no Kelly Clarkson. And the reason i knew this is because I went to get my sammich out the kitchen and was turning the station. None of these singers, from what I gathered, sound no better than ordinary.”

A conversation with music critic and fellow HIFI writer Brent Faulkner ensued: “I’m not going to waste my time with ordinary singers. I need some real ‘sangers.”

“Brent, its not even worth trying to clamor towards,” I replied. “I’ll have better luck going to the nearest local karaoke bar.”

Some avid watchers of Idol are more hip to following the aging TV dinosaur all the way to the final end, even as they fearlessly complain about it in public spaces.

“This performance is awful,” a friend of mine posted on Facebook. “Sir, you are NOT Fantasia. #idol”

When I asked Juanita Vann why she was watching the “God-forsaken” show, she responded quickly with “I am a die hard fan who will watch until it’s cancelled. I am truly right now though.” When I reminded her of the show’s drastic ratings drop and told her that the show’s future was on the line, Vann decided to put me in my place. “Idol has at least two more years, which is more than I can say for Smash.”

Oftentimes, the truth hurts. But as painful as it was to hear that comment, I had to produce a hearty laugh.


American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7c on FOX.

Follow J MATTHEW COBB at Twitter and Facebook.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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