SAN DIEGO, April 25, 2013 – Fox Network’s “American Idol” set the gold standard for reality singing shows, and all TV reality talent shows. Its ratings slaughtered the competition with such conviction other networks gave up trying.
Not anymore. There’s nothing hotter on TV right now than Idol’s biggest rival, “The Voice.”
For the first time last week, the Monday and Tuesday airings of “The Voice” drew the most total viewers, beating runner up “Dancing With The Stars” for the second week. “The Voice” is consistently beating “American Idol” both in total overall viewers, and in the coveted adult 18-49 category, the audience advertisers love.
The average age of the audience is younger for “The Voice” compared to “American Idol,” a median age of 45.9 for Voice, 53.4 for idol.
“The Voice” drew a season high 14.45 million viewers for the first time on April 15, up against coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier in the day. “American Idol” drew 12.71 million viewers; the average has been much lower.
Since the premiere, Idol’s ratings have mostly dropped, until a slight rise last Thursday. It’s the opposite for Voice; its ratings have increased ever since the premiere.
The steady decline of Idol’s ratings and the critical beating it has received over the last few years pains its admirers. It’s perplexing and it’s troubling.
The fans are sending a message loud and clear: “American Idol” isn’t the blockbuster must-see reality TV competition it used to be. No one should be happy about this, due to the one thing the show does better than any other reality TV show of any kind: finding legitimate stars.
When one show can produce Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Katherine McPhee, Daughtry, Adam Lambert, and last year’s Phillip Phillips, whose single “Home” was one of the big hits of the summer thanks to exposure during the 2012 Summer Olympics, it’s doing something right.
But the TV shows themselves don’t really benefit from the successes of their artists, so while Idol has bragging rights here, it’s all about the ratings for the TV network. No one at NBC is crying over it.
Fox can’t keep pointing to its track record with Idol; it needs to produce viewers, week in and week out. And it’s not. What should Idol do to restore its former ratings glory? Our recommendations:
1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“American Idol” should take the year off instead of doing a Spring 2014 show to rethink its format, and allow its fans to miss it a little. It should think about broadening its horizons rather than focusing on singers who fall into the big ballads and pop categories, singers who are all quite young. What about an “American Idol: Bands” edition for groups?
2. Better ratings through chemistry.
The judge issue is a significant problem for Idol. The stars who agree to be reality TV judges are a large part of the entertainment value. Viewers need to enjoy spending time with them.
This is where “The Voice” is light years ahead of “American Idol.” Who would you rather invite into your home to hang out? Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Usher and Shakira, or Keith Urban, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey?
Watching Idol this season, you can be a fan of Nicki Minaj or Mariah Carey as artists, but watching them together is painful. Minaj’s antics, non sequiters, tardiness and trashiness like flashing her thong on live TV aren’t even train wreck funny. Carey has shut down. Idol needs to find individuals with chemistry among them and fast.
3. Improve the song selection.
The more serious issue for Idol versus Voice is song clearance. Clearance means the show must pay the person or company that owns the performance licensing rights to a song for a singer to perform it on the air. Idol suffers from a limited clearance list, leaving it sounding outdated and repetitive. Singers keep getting crammed in the same box, compared to predecessors who have already used the same material. They end up singing aging songs they don’t know and aren’t a good fit.
During Idol’s “Beatles Week” competitors could choose from a list of just 20 songs. Many were slightly obscure and certain singers were too young to know the Beatles catalog. Compare this situation to “The Voice,” where the song list has included current chart hits, quirky favorites and forgotten classics. This season viewers heard songs by LMFAO, Bruno Mars, Pink, Mark Cohn, Ne-Yo, Shakira, Johnny Cash, Luis Fonsi, Jessie J, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Willie Nelson, Rihanna, even “Safe and Sound” from “The Hunger Games.”
Clearance costs a lot of money but come on, producers, loosen the purse strings. Music is still at the heart of these shows. A broad, quirky song list like that keeps my attention as a viewer. Watching “The Voice,” you find yourself saying “Wow, what a fresh/fun/unusual choice!”
There hasn’t been a single “wow” over a song on “American Idol” all season with one exception: when Angie Miller sang and played her own original composition. It made all the difference. When the singers perform a song that fits, a song they understand and relate to, the performance is far better.
4. Fewer sob stories and train wrecks
The audition shows on “American Idol” seem endless. Every contestant has some dramatic or sad backstory. Are there no perfectly well adjusted, happy people at the auditions? Leave the train wrecks to “America’s Got Talent.” If we never had another William Hung or “Pants On The Ground” it would be wonderful.
At the risk of seeming to contradict this advice, “American Idol” need not become a copy of “The Voice.” But Idol has become boring which is the greatest sin on TV. The Idol judges seem to be doing a job. The Voice judges seem to be having a great time. Idol lacks energy; Voice is all about energy. On Idol, it all seems to have been done before. On Voice, there are still surprises.
So come on, “American Idol.” Figure out a way to become fresh again, and the viewers will be back, dawg.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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