This year, something changed on the reality TV front: American Idol no longer held the dominant lead on ratings it once had for each season since its conception. Could the end really be nigh? Could the critics and their vehement wishes that Idol would fall someday finally be getting their way? The end would come someday, but I never thought it would be this close to us. And while cancellation is not in the cards anytime soon (ratings are still dominant for FOX, let's be fair), the impact it has had on television is waning, and that is in no small part thanks to the introduction of countless rip-offs. including The X-Factor from former Idol judge Simon Cowell (my X-Factor embargo is officially lifted).
But what has contributed to the decline in the singing competiton program and its various opponents? Oversaturation. Simon Cowell created what was likely the first nail in the coffin of American Idol when bringing UK's The X-Factor to the US last year, alongside judges Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger. But it gets more complicated: in bringing the singing competition over here, he helped flood the market with more rip-offs, including ABC's Duets, NBC's The Sing-Off, and the series that seemed poised to shock everyone and win the ratings race, NBC's The Voice. Alas, it never came to be, as numbers dropped after a healthy opening post-Super Bowl.
The oversaturation of the market has left viewers feeling tired and full of all the singing. And what's the point anyway? The stars of the shows are no longer the talented competitors: it's the judges. More attention has been given to Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez's hirings and subsequent walk-aways than any of the Idol winners or runners-up in the past five years. Not since Carrie Underwood (or maybe Adam Lambert or Chris Daughtry, to be more recent) has anyone from American Idol truly taken off in the music world, but the judges are constantly in the news. After Tyler and Lopez left the judging panel, no one cared whether there would be an outlet for young singers to make their case for being the next American Idol. All anyone wanted to know was who would fill J-Lo's, ahem, big seat.
American Idol scored big when they signed Mariah Carey to a contract worth $18 million. Wait a second. $18 million, you say? Multiple times more than they're paying the winner? Yes, you're right. They're investing more in the judges than they are in the talent. What does that tell you about what really matters.
That aside, Mariah Carey is a huge get. But The X-Factor struck hard and fast first when firing dead weight Abdul and Scherzinger in favor of Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. Spears will be a proven draw when the show begins, and early reports suggest her nice girl image (let's forget the whole shaved-her-head-and-acted-insane-for-a-few-years stage) isn't going to be expanded on the show. In fact, she may be a female Simon Cowell. And I've seen Simon in tight shirts. He's close enough to the female Simon Cowell. Meanwhile, Demi Lovato is a nice, young addition to a panel in desperate need last year of a young perspective. Paula is pushing 50 and Scherzinger was too busy being in love with herself to do her job.
But is it too late for Simon to hit the Reset button on his own show? We've proven already that The X-Factor is a failure. Implement any level of success/failure degrees you want, but the end result is the same: Season 1 failed. Britney Spears can grab big numbers in Week 1, but they need a miracle to keep those ratings up.
American Idol's ratings seemed stable when Tyler and Lopez joined last year, but the numbers took a hard fall this year. Reports suggested Lopez turned down $20 million to return. Good. Lopez used the show as a stepping stone to re-insert herself into Hollywood after messing about with various film and music failures before joining Idol. Let's be honest: J-Lo became relevant again via American Idol, and she will fade back into the shadows. Have you seen the box office for What To Expect When You're Expecting? I think she was expecting more. She's not a movie star. Especially at 42. But she was sinking Idol with her inane comments and the gushing from Tyler and Randy Jackson over how beautiful she is. It slowly became The J-Lo Show. Idol doesn't need that. Yeah, they hired Mariah Carey, the better J-Lo, but can she do worse?
With Jackson also close to exiting, rumors have swirled over who else will join Carey: Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, a Jonas Brother (does it really matter who?), Charlie Sheen, Snoop Dogg (I'm not calling him Snoop Lion just because he found God), and Adam Lambert. What's that sound you hear? Ah, it's the bottom of the barrel being scraped mercilessly. We've run out of barely relevant names and are now turning to the next tier of available talent. Sure, there are always other choices, but it doesn't matter. The Reset button has been pressed too often on Idol and now the ratings are catching up. Mariah Carey better get what she can while she can before the ship sinks.
And not even talent can save the shows now. What was once a conspiracy theory is now all but proven: young teenage girls vote for the cutest guy. Sure, some women slip through every now and again, but it's rare for them to win now. And the winners are proving more and more how little it means to win these shows. Have you heard much from Melanie Amaro, Javier Colon or Lee DeWyze? Can you correctly match them with their respective shows immediately? If not, I don't blame you. Colon scored 9,974 units sold for his album's first week. DeWyze sold 149,000 total for his debut album. Amaro's debut single dropped this week. But the writing is on the wall.
Take a look at the hottest-selling artist right now: Carly Rae Jepsen. She has topped the Billboard charts eight weeks in a row in the US, she has inspired thousands of Youtube sing-alongs, she has performed everywhere and she has us all waiting to see what's next. Where did she get her start? She placed 3rd on Canadian Idol. FIVE years ago. Even after releasing her debut album in 2008, the young singer couldn't catch a break from her Canadian Idol beginnings. It wasn't until all the stars aligned that Jepsen struck it big with Call Me Maybe. It all came down to luck that the catchy tune became the biggest hit of 2012. It kind of shows how little these shows can really do for the talent involved, doesn't it? You can give away as much money, exposure and record deals you want, but you can't buy, sell or trade luck. It just happens.
But don't count out American Idol yet. It'll be back next year. And the year after that. And perhaps the year after that. The X-Factor and The Voice will probably follow suit. But we're closer to the end than we are to the beginning. And Television always adapts and grows. It heals itself. Five years ago, we never saw an end in sight for three CSIs and three Law & Orders. Ten years ago, we didn't think the primetime game show boom would ever come to an end. But Televison always finds a way to move forward, even if it takes the networks a little bit longer to catch up.
One thing is certain: the only ones left singing for their lives are the shows themselves. And you know something? It's a little pitchy, dawg.
Until next time, stay tuned.