Remember when Fox’s American Idol first started and totally changed the television AND pop star game? With its classic three judges — Randy Jackson as the laid-back-yet-snarky one, Paula Abdul as the ultra-nice one, and of course Simon Cowell as the cruel one who would say things like, “That sounded WORSE than karaoke” — the show was the ultimate entertainment of the early 2000s. In fact, according to Entertainment Week, it was once dubbed, “Fox’s Death Star, a series so popular it decimated any rival that dared to air at the same time.”
But now, it’s been 13 years since Kelly Clarkson won that classic first season of American Idol, and viewership has declined every single year. This past year, it hit its lowest viewership: 11.6 million viewers, including DVR payback, according to EW. And now, Fox has announced that they will be cancelling the show after its 15th season this January. What’s the reason? Well, it seems America just doesn’t want the same snark they wanted when the show started. Time’s they have a-changed.
According to Fox chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Waldman, canceling the show was “not an easy decision.” “American Idol has been such a vital part of Fox for its run,” Newman told industry reporters in a press conference. “We spent a lot of time talking with producers about the future of American Idol and collectively we arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show to an end. But we wanted to do it in a way that felt special and celebratory and treated the show the way it deserved to be treated.” The “special and celebratory” way they’ll be ending the show is by honoring the earlier seasons with appearances from former judges and contestants. Fingers crossed we’ll see some of the show’s most famous contestants, like Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Carrie Underwood.
The cancellation doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. Last December, the show’s long-time sponsor Coca-Cola pulled its deal with the show after 13 seasons. As Rolling Stone notes, the show truly began its decline in 2010, when Cowell left the show for its rival show, The X Factor. Even though it only lasted three seasons, Cowell never returned — and NBC’s The Voice also “oversaturated the market.” What made The Voice, which is still going strong, so much more popular than Idol? The Week claims that more valuable coaches, more talented (and unique) contestants, and more excitement are what’s kept The Voice afloat.
But the real reason Idol has tanked? It’s not cool to berate people these days. Perhaps that’s why Cowell no longer feels missed; as Billboard notes, his ghost has “vanished into a parallel universe where nastiness is allowed to exist.” But the more wholesome, get-in-touch-with-your-talent feel of The Voice is what viewers really want — not a parade of flashy judges with a terribly cruel audition segment that purposely highlights the worst singers for entertainment value and numbers. That is the mark of another era.
American Idol, we’ll miss you, and we’ll always think of you as a staple of the 2000s — but we think that’s where you need to stay. Although, as Billboard notes, perhaps if Fox takes a five to 10 year hiatus with Idol, rethinks its end game, and comes up with a totally new singing competition, it could be good. But let’s keep it nice, and move forward from the cat fights. That’s what America wants.