Competition heats up as ‘American Idol’ returns

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‘American Idol’ returns on Wednesday for an 11th season, facing a new wolf at the door as it tries to retain its place as the No. 1 U.S. TV program — not so much age, but competition. Rejuvenated by a judging panel makeover and the discovery of its biggest star in years in country singer Scotty McCreery, the talent show last season saw a four percent increase in audience, reversing a trend that had seen viewer-ship slip.
But that was before NBC launched its surprise 2011 summer hit ‘The Voice’ and Simon Cowell brought his ‘The X Factor’ in September with outsize hype but underwhelming critical reviews. Each show attracted about half the average 25.2 million viewers who watched ‘American Idol’ in 2011. According to industry experts, ‘American Idol’ faces more competition this year than ever.
“You are a month away from the end of ‘X Factor’ and a month away from the beginning of ‘The Voice’. And so you do wonder if, even though ‘X Factor’ was not as big a success as Simon Cowell had anticipated, if it managed to cannibalise viewers from ‘Idol.’ That will be the big question going in.”
Fox says it is not overly concerned about the competition, calling ‘American Idol’ the ‘gold standard’ of TV singing contests which has produced bona-fide stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. TV critics were predicting the demise of ‘Idol’ following the exit of acerbic judge Cowell. But, thanks partly to the addition of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and pop star Jennifer Lopez as judges, “it came roaring back.”
Yet this year, more than ever, questions are being raised about viewer fatigue, given the new, rival shows. ‘The Voice’, which put a twist on the format with blind auditions and live performances by its superstar judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, is not considered the foremost competitor. ‘X Factor’, however, was so similar to ‘Idol’ that viewers might have little appetite for another singing binge so soon, Mansfield said.
‘Idol’ caught fire in 2011 as teen country stars Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina emerged as likely finalists. McCreery, 17, the eventual winner, went straight to the top of the Billboard album charts in October in the best debut by an Idol champion since 2008. Last week, McCreery’s ‘Clear As Day’ album went platinum after selling more than one million copies.