American Idle: How to Remake a Stalling Superstar Search Show

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music, TV

Judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler join Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest in American Idol’s tenth season.

Quick, name the most recent winner of American Idol.

Drawing blanks? You’re not alone.

Lee DeWyze is the answer, but it’s not as if the season nine winner made much of a splash. His debut album made the weakest debut on the Billboard 200 album chart of any Idol winner — No. 19 — and quickly tumbled to the bottom rungs of the chart. At the same time that Idol winners’ album sales take a nosedive, the show’s ratings have hit their lowest point since 2004. To make matters worse, the flagship judge, Simon Cowell, is not returning for the show’s tenth season.

Hoping to breathe new life into the show, Fox is changing things up a bit. In addition to Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, and pop singer Jennifer Lopez will be critiquing the contestants. As they vie for the American Idol crown, contestants will no longer be limited to performing only covers, and could opt for singing original songs. Big name producers  like Rodney Jerkins, Alex Da Kid and Timbaland will mentor them, and the contestants’ new material, including music videos, will be released during the season rather than months after.

“Normally with a new artist, the world isn’t waiting,” Geffen chairman Ron Fair told The Hollywood Reporter. “In ‘American Idol’s’ case, the public is — they want to hear something great. With a big tail wind like that, you want to set sail.”

The show’s creators want to reinvigorate ratings, but American Idol remains the No. 1 show on television and is a cash cow. It might not command the viewers it once did, but it still has the highest ad rate of any program. Idol creators want more. When the show debuted in 2002, it was subtitled “The Search for a Superstar,” but a look at recent Idol alums reveals that they’ve veered from that.

“What is in our wake?” asked Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe. “I suppose you’ll go Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and then you start running out of Idols. We have got to go back to creating an American Idol. If that’s what we’re here to do, that’s what we have to do.”

And the stakes for Idol are higher than ever as television gets a second reality pop star show, X Factor. Simon Cowell will debut X Factor this September on Fox, and if Idol‘s ratings and contestants can’t keep up, it won’t matter how you market it — Idol will be irrelevant.

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