The mother of all singing competition reality shows, American Idol, started its 15th–and last–season tonight. I won’t be watching it though. I don’t have TV and have little interest in watching it anymore anyway, but for a few short years, during the height of its popularity, I really got into it.
I began watching in season 5, because my daughter, who was about 13 at the time, was into it. That was an especially good year (maybe one of the best) for talent. I thought rocker Chris Daughtry was going to win (and he was my favorite that year), but he was shockingly eliminated in 4th place. It didn’t matter though, because for a few years, he and his band, Daughtry, became pretty successful and had hit after hit on the radio.
There was always plenty of drama too, and the original three judges, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, had great chemistry onscreen without eclipsing the contestants, the way later judges tended to do.
I soon found myself addicted to this silly show, and for about four years, watched it regularly every Wednesday and Thursday. I had my favorite contestants and actually voted for them.
But once Paula left (after season 8), it was all downhill after that. Paula was the “good cop” to Simon Cowell’s “bad cop” and was always nice to contestants, even when they were terrible or had no talent. Simon was acerbic and sarcastic, but always entertaining and seemed to motivate the contestants to do better. Most of them seemed to care more about winning Simon’s praise than anyone else’s. As mean as Simon could sometimes be, he was always honest, and when he liked someone, he let them know.
The year after Paula left, Simon followed. The show never recovered. There were a few years of revolving judges, and a few bad ones. The show lost ratings every year and never produced another star or even anyone coming close to being a star (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are probably the most famous alumni), but it still managed to hang on.
I think there are several reasons why American Idol lost ratings in recent years.
- the loss of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul
- too much emphasis on judge antics and filler instead of the contestants
- the success of “cooler” and more contemporary singing competition shows like The Voice.
- the record industry in general not doing as well because of the economy
- network television being less popular today
- the novelty just wore off
It’s a little sad to see this show that was once the #1 water-cooler topic and always at the top of the ratings, and one that my kids and I enjoyed so much, become a shadow of what it once was. It’s been dying a slow, painful death for a while now, so I’m glad to see it finally being put out of its misery, but it does seem like the end of an era. I may tune in for the finale this season, just because.