American Idol: Dropping in Ratings and Talent With Season 12

Annie McKay

When “American Idol” first premiered in 2002, no one could have expected the enormous impact it would have on media and culture. The show has not only discovered stars like Grammy Award winners Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson, but it has created the mold for competition-based, fan voting reality shows such as “The Voice,” “The X Factor,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” This season, however, ratings have dropped to an all-time low, leading us to wonder if the show that has had such an instrumental impact is on its last legs.

“American Idol’s” ratings for season 12 have been dismal. This year’s premiere was down 20 million viewers from the show’s peak premiere, which brought in 37.44 million viewers. “Idol’s” February 27, 2013 episode was viewed by a mere 13.3 million people, the lowest total viewership since 2002, before the show had an opportunity to take off. By March 21, 2013, the show was down 50 percent from its premiere date. Now in April, the show is well outside of the top 10 shows, a spot it has never occupied in its run history.

There are several different possible reasons for this sharp decline in ratings. For one, the show is in its twelfth season. No show in the history of television has been able to stay number one for that amount of time. Although ratings have been slowly declining since season eight in 2009, season 12 has had the most dramatic drop in ratings by far.

Another reason for the show’s decline was the departure of two of “Idol’s” most polarizing judges: Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. Cowell, known for his brutal honesty and witty judgments of contestants, was a crowd favorite. His absolute lack of empathy and the ease with which he insulted people was extremely entertaining to audiences.  

Abdul was polarizing because of her apparent lack of intelligence and rumored substance abuse. Cowell and Abdul worked off each other’s antics in a way that made the judges’ table just as entertaining as the singing itself. When those two left, the show went through several other replacements, including songwriter and producer Kara Diaguardi, comedian Ellen Degeneres and singers Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Jennifer Lopez. None have come close to being as interesting and fun to watch as Cowell and Abdul.

The current judges on season 12 are Randy Jackson, Keith Urban, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. The four, especially Minaj, are blamed for the sharp decline this season has taken in ratings. Jackson, the veteran from the beginning, is solid, but audiences are growing tired of him. Urban is likable, but far too nice; he makes us miss the brutality of Cowell. Producers have tried to capitalize on the very public feud between Carey and Minaj, hoping to bring some entertainment back to the judges’ table, but all it has done is push audiences away. The two divas, Minaj more so than Carey, are completely obnoxious and detract from the show. The producers’ idea of advertising this feud has completely backfired.

With these new judges has also come an easing up on the contestants, leading to a decline in the talent. When Cowell was on the show and willing to rip a contestant to shreds if they didn’t perform up to his expectations, the performances were at a much higher caliber. Now, the judges are far too positive and let mediocre performances pass for great ones. Because of this decline in talent shows like “The X Factor” and “The Voice” have a shot, because there the quality of talent is still high.

With season 12 coming to an end in May, it will be interesting to see how much longer the show lasts and if it has any hope of a resurgence.

With the way it’s going, however, from a production and talent standpoint, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the cancellation of the show within the next couple of years.