FOX downplays ‘American Idol’s lowest ratings since Season 1

Judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, from left, star on "American Idol."

“American Idol” is showing its age.

The singing competition opened Season 11 on Wednesday with a 17 percent decline in audience compared to last year’s premiere, according to preliminary ratings. The reality show still managed to pull in 21.9 million total viewers, easily the most of any program that night. But the drop marked the series’ lowest premiere since its first season during the summer of 2002. (At its peak, in 2007, “Idol” opened to 37.4 million viewers.)

Fox’s president of entertainment, Kevin Reilly, predicted that “Idol” would lose ratings when he met with reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., last week. “I expect ‘Idol’ will be down this season, but mostly due to the fact it’s going to be an 11 year old show,” he said. “It’s going to be a natural life cycle for that show.”

Other factors for the decline in interest may be attributed to the lack of changes to talent and format this season. Last year, new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez no doubt attracted some viewers out of sheer curiosity. But with Tyler, Lopez and stalwart judge Randy Jackson returning this season, the show boasts little novelty.

It also faces some stiff competition. Once peerless, “Idol” may meet its match when “The Voice” returns on Feb. 5. The flashy NBC hit could very well steal a portion of the “Idol” audience who only has the time — or patience — for one singing competition this winter. Debuting after the Super Bowl, it may even open stronger than “Idol.”

But none of this means Reilly doesn’t still recognize “Idol” as television gold. “I wouldn’t read into anything immediately on that,” he said of decline. “I think you’ve got to see where the season ends up.”


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