It’s hard to know quite how to react to today’s news that American Idol will end its historic run on Fox next season after fifteen years on television. For at least ten of those years, the show tapped into the white hot center of the country’s pop culture conversation and dominated the ratings in every monetizable demographic.
But somewhere between the coronation of Phillip Phillips and the coronation of Candice Glover, the bloom started to wilt. Perhaps it was earlier than that, perhaps a little later. But the decay is undeniable, evident in the morning-after ratings reports, in the dwindling amount of online chatter, in the increasingly lackluster roster of superstars willing to devote time to the show.
Midway through last night’s American Idol finale, Ryan Seacrest introduced a taped segment in which he explained every aspect of the show’s contestant process, from auditions to Hollywood Week, live shows and the finale. This segment served two purposes: it wasted time and insulted viewers, who would surely have preferred another musical performance instead of a generic explanation of the season of television they were about to finish.
This inept programming decision was one of many on last night’s glorified two-hour results show.
American Idol, once the nation’s most popular television show and a major force in the music industry, has been reduced to a footnote on a theoretical map of pop culture significance. And yet it chugs along, struggling to maintain relevance even as viewers vote with their remotes for NBC’s The Voice, which is younger, hipper and ostensibly more reflective of modern music tastes and trends.
After watching last night’s show (the first time I watched a full episode of season 13), it’s not hard to see why viewers have been tuning out. Even as some aspects of the show have improved, and intentions are largely in the right place, American Idol remains out of touch with the audience it clearly wants to reach.
American Idol and Dancing with the Stars have long since ceased to be the nation’s two most-talked about reality competitions. Idol has become increasingly adrift since Simon Cowell’s departure and the recent White Guy with Guitar phenomenon (extinguished last year due to blatant producer manipulation), while Dancing has fallen victim to a case of stubborn, agreeable familiarity: the show isn’t really capable of fully reinventing itself without alienating its core, older-skewing fanbase. Nonetheless, both of these shows remain at the center of their networks’ fall and spring lineups, and they’ve both recently made casting announcements. Time for some knee-jerk analysis!