The fall of ‘American Idol’ as hitmaker reaches an inevitable end

First-season winner of "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson in 2002.

First-season winner of “American Idol” Kelly Clarkson in 2002.

(Lucy Nicholson / Associated Press)

If you thought “American Idol” had been a bit pitchy for its last few seasons, its home network, Fox, agreed.

In an announcement promoting the upcoming 15th season of “Idol,” Fox finally admitted the inevitable: the long-runnning singing competition would be shutting down at the end of the coming season.

“A season-long celebratory event, American Idol XV will feature host Ryan Seacrest and judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr., as they search for the final Idol superstar,” said Fox in a statement. The season will “pay tribute to the past 14 seasons of amazingly talented contestants and the millions of fans who tweeted, texted and championed their Idols.”


The show debuted strong in 2002, with average nightly viewership of 12.69 million, but hit its stride by 2006, when it was pulling in an astonishing 30 million viewers per night. Its winning streak began slipping in 2011, and it now earns a solid but much-faded 9.15 million per episode.

At its strongest, the show helped launch the pop and country music careers of “Idol” winners Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Fantasia Barrino. Other competitors to rise to fame included eventual Queen tourmate Adam Lambert and future Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson. The series also helped turn the acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell into a favorite U.S. TV villain.

But translating success on “Idol” to success on the pop charts steadily became more difficult, and Cowell’s 2010 departure hastened the show’s decline. Various tinkering with the show’s format and judges panel failed to return “Idol” to the numbers from its heyday, and now the show trails NBC’s singing show “The Voice” and Fox’s own music-themed soap opera “Empire.”

Lopez, Urban and Connick will return for one last round of judging for “American Idol’s” final season, as will host Seacrest. The show will also reportedly feature cameos from many of its past stars and judges, but no names have been confirmed yet.

The final season will air Wednesday and Thursday nights for the first half of its run in January, and weekly on Thursday nights for the second and final half of its series run.

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