American Idol is back! After fourteen seasons, what Fox calls, “the original reality competition show” is looking to reinvent itself yet again. While many may read this and let out with an exasperated sigh, “another show with another promise,” I think this season may actually be successful. Having undergone several major formatting changes, American Idol hopes to return once again as the show that discovers superstars.
At peak popularity in 2006, American Idol reached an astounding 37 million viewers for its premiere. The finale reached a similarly impressive 30 million. However, like most shows, American Idol has struggled to stay relevant. Anyone who has followed the show knows that in its prime you couldn’t google “America” without “American Idol” being the first result to show up. At the same time, anyone who has followed the show knows full well the difficulties Idol has had--when judge Ellen Degeneres almost never critiqued a performance, or the unforgettable, diva-filled panel composed of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson and Keith Urban (all of whom, excluding Urban, left after the season). Ratings and viewers began to drop when Paula Abdul left the panel at the end of Season 8 due to contracting issues, followed by Simon Cowell, who went on to launch the American X Factor, before Idol season 10 began. Needless to say, judge turnover played a huge part in the decline of the once unstoppable empire of American Idol.
Now entering the fourteenth season with returning judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr., Idol is making a much-needed comeback. For months now, commercials featuring the voices of both Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have been all over Fox. These ads end with one of the best taglines around—“Superstars Made Here”. This advertisement is brilliant. While American Idol has of late been supplanted by the newer and brighter The Voice, it has something that no other reality singing competition has: superstars. With 9 Grammy awards won by American Idol winners, the show possesses well-deserved bragging rights. Not one contestant from The Voice has made it anywhere close to the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Katherine McPhee, Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, David Cook, Jordin Sparks, or Phillip Phillips—to name a few. Superstars truly have been made here.
However, American Idol understood that in order to find the next superstar, some major formatting changes had to be made. Prior to the start of this season, longtime judge and mentor Randy Jackson announced his departure from the show. In addition, prominent sponsor Coca-Cola pulled its support. This leaves emcee Ryan Seacrest as the last remaining original Idol member. New to the team and hoping to help coach the next Grammy-winning superstar is Scott Borchatta of the Big Machine Label Group who will be serving as the in-house advisor. Borchetta is most recognized as the man who lead Taylor Swift into her dazzling fame and success. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Borchetta stated, “I just want to get in there because it's what do I every day...and the ability for us to work with them now until the show is over instead of, 'OK, here's the winner, now do your best,' is really a chance to get behind the scenes and help identify [talent] and make sure they are ready for what the rest of their life could look like.” This year, prior to announcing the Top 24, there will be a contestant performance in LA at the House of Blues in order for the judges to see how the contestants fare in front of a live audience. Finally, and most noticeably, American Idol is losing their separate results show. Following in the steps of other competition shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, Idol will have a two-hour live show once a week that will include both performances and results. This is in hopes of engaging the audience and increasing viewers while cutting down on the result show gimmicks that so many hate.
Will these changes be enough to restore American Idol to its once-great legacy? That remains to be seen, but after two weeks of auditions in Nashville, New York City, and the Idol bus auditions in Kansas City, there is great potential. With contestants like the quirky but powerful belter Naomi Tatsuoka who performed Adele’s “Someone Like You”, as well as the loveable “Hollywood Anderson” whose moving, original song “My Best Friend” is one of the greatest auditions of the past few years, this 14th season indeed has an incredible amount of potential. Tune in on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8pm on Fox to witness American Idol’s discovery of the next superstar.