People from Boston to Salt Lake City are waiting in unimaginable lines to audition for the 13th season of "American Idol," but the show itself appears to still be scrambling.
The show, with its 13th season coming up in January, has been churning judges in and out the last few seasons as ratings tanked.
Randy Jackson, along with the sometimes-sparring Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, will not return to next year’s judging seats. No word yet on Aussie country star Keith Urban, who told E! News he had “no idea” if he’d be judging singing hopefuls.
The latest person out the door was executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, canned this summer.
He tweeted that he was booted from the show, and Billboard reported two days later that Per Blankens – who had the same title on the show’s Swedish version -- would replace him.
The swapped staffing might signal that producers want to keep the show alive, even as copycat competitors like “The Voice” coast through their ratings.
That’s a dramatic change from the show's early years, when most Americans might have been able to recognize the names of winners-turned-blockbuster-stars Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. Now, the show’s last winner, Candice Glover, might not be such a household name.
But how can “Idol” claw back from ratings purgatory?
“It’s lost its purpose,” says Tom Morton at ad agency GSP New York, which has worked with music-related clients like YouTube. “It was about finding these amazing undiscovered stars,” he says, but now, the focus is on dueling judges.
“American Idol basically spent the last two years turning into WWE,” he says. “It’s the same amount of spray tans, the same amount of microphones, the same amount of grandstanding, and about the same amount of vocal talent.”
Meanwhile, spots like YouTube have sprouted, giving singers more options to get noticed.
A YouTube-made singer like Psy might be a dynamic judge, Morton suggests, or Grammy-nominated new artists like Drake to connect with younger viewers.
“I don’t think Mariah Carey or Keith Urban are going to find the next Skrillex,” he says.
Despite losing 10 million viewers during the last two years, according to Billboard, Debra Caruso, owner of DJC Communications and a TV blogger, says it can come back.
Consistency will be key, she says – keeping Ryan Seacrest has been a smart move, for example.
“Viewers have an emotional attachment to familiar faces and when they don’t have that, they start to turn away,” she explains.
A good replacement for the empty judging table? Jennifer Hudson, she suggests, a name that has surfaced already.
“They have to find a panel of judges that are very familiar to the audience,” she says. “They don’t have the time any more to build up those attachments.”
She adds, “I don’t think it’s too late for American Idol, but they’re not in a good spot. Once you start going downhill, it’s very hard to recoup what you’ve lost.”
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison