Aww, look at the increasingly low ratings for American Idol. It's like watching Grandma on life support, and, sadly, given the average demographics of the show these days, the grim visual of that admittedly tasteless comparison is not far from the truth.
Much has been said about the reasons why the show is tanking in the ratings, although, given how low in general the ratings for TV shows are these days, it can be argued that the show isn't dying... at least, not at a rate that some people are predicting. Still, for a show that once had the prestige of being a ratings juggernaut - once upon a time, it took on the Winter Olympics and emerged unscathed like a boss - the current rating level is pretty embarrassing.
What should be more worrying, though, isn't that the ratings are down worse then previously, it's that many news and entertainment outlets are deliberately not covering this season. Why should they? It's clear that people aren't as interested on the show as they once were, and no entertainment shows want to waste precious airtime covering something that smells like carrion. Digital media can't be arsed to create entries that would flounder as linkbaits. The whole thing serves as a vicious cycle: people care less, there is no hype, and people care even less.
Still, why is this happening to the show? As a fan who followed the show religiously once upon a time - I even nearly killed myself recapping the shows in painful detail once upon a time - I have some theories.
It's an old show. Positively ancient as it is now 12 going on 13 seasons down the road, and the show lost its cool status sometime after the sixth season. There is a brief revival among the teens when David Archuleta, poster boy for why little girls lust after Mormon lads, took on fraubait David Cook, but any hope for the show to not be a religion for histrionic middle-aged women shrieking lustfully after younger men of debatable physical beauty dies when these creepy women locked their daughters away to prevent these girls from voting for David Archuleta in the finale. David Cook won, and the show got its new punchline as a platform for fraus to indulge in post-menopausal love/lust-addled fantasies. Or, in a term less offensive to post-menopausal fraus everywhere, the White Guy With Guitar Syndrome.
The core fanbase is ripe for ridicule. For a long time - at least, until this season when the show inexplicably shows off the pictures of its voting audience - the show manages to convince the media that young girls are responsible for the constant parade of bland white boy winners of dubious talent. Anyone with a brain would realize how wrong this myth is, however. Teenage girls don't go for slugs like Lee DeWyze or atonal bland dweebs singing MOR crock like David Cook - they go for Zac Efron, David Archuleta, One Direction, and other blandly squeaky clean and sexually non-threatening guys that manage to do a good job in hiding their drug habits for the duration of their 15 seconds. No, it's the older women that go for the WGWGs, and, fairly or not, hormonal women after a certain age are always fodder for jokes. We hear theories, like how the WGWGs remind them of their son's best friend that they secretly lust after. These jokes, coupled with actual research that showed how the median age of the average viewer of this show is now pushing 60, kill all that is left of what little of the cool factor this show manages to retain. No kid wants to watch a show that Grandma is shrieking over, and any kid whose mother constantly gush about the sex appeal of the pale white guitared slug is conditioned to hate the show. Unsurprisingly, the show is now the epitome of "drunk mom acting up in front of your friends" kind of uncool. Season after season of young kids being embarrassed by their mothers acting like crazy loons over Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry takes its toll, and these kids tell all their friends to stop watching too.
The boring pool of contestants. The finalists have, in recent seasons, been cast to meet the necessary quota of stereotypes more than anything else. It's probably a chicken and egg issue: does the parade of bland and inoffensive white guitared guys and blonde country bimbos come first, or does the middle-aged Southern ladies that watch this show religiously come first instead? Either way, the bland stereotypes season in and season out are not making the show exciting to watch. The unchanging stereotypes also mean that once you have a favorite - Carrie Underwood the country blonde, David Cook the smelly-looking MOR dude, Kelly Clarkson the sweet girl next door with big voice - you would be less emotionally invested to cheer for another contestant that seems like a watered down version of that favorite contestant of yours. Compare this to the current seasons of The Voice, where there are contestants who are quirky, fun, and young-in-heart. (Of course, many of them are cut by the time the finals come in, which is my theory as to why The Voice loses viewers after the battle rounds.) Idol may have a typical pageant ballad-shrieking teen bot every season, but these bots feel old in spirit, singing songs that have run out of fashion twenty years ago. The Voice, on the other hand, has some contestants that would feel at home in the heart of a teenager even if they are not that young, because the kind of sound and vibe these contestants resonate with the "cool" of today.
What happened to the Byrd? Perhaps as a result of of the introduction of instruments on the show, the contestants have become increasingly bland and unpolished each recent season. After all, with a guitar to drive sixty-year old women wild with desire, these white pasty boys don't need much coaching in terms of actual stage presence and other boring stuff, right? Or perhaps, after the departure of Debra Byrd, the "mentors" have become either celebrity guests more preoccupied with flogging their new CDs or egomaniacs like Jimmy Iovine who is more about his own awesomeness than anything else? Or maybe it's because potentially interesting contestants are shying away from Idol - who, after all, wants to be on a show that is increasingly watched only by 60-year old grandmothers that won't remember them once the season is over? Even if it's not fame these contestants are after, they have a choice: preen under the "tutelage" of Adam Levine - and maybe even perform with him - or be nagged to death by Harry Connick, Jr. Guess which one most people would go for. The result for Idol is an endless parade of boring, nervous, charisma-free, and atonal wannabes.
Lack of focus. Simon Cowell, love or hate him, provides a focus for the seasons he was on. He was dangerously becoming stale by the time he quit the show after shoving Lee DeWyze down everyone's throat as his sadistic farewell gift, and he is a caricature today after the hilarious flopping and cancellation of The X-Factor in the USA. But he was an anchor on the show, and his presence helps carry a season even when the finalists are not very interesting. The show today doesn't have that kind of person. They tried with Randy Jackson, with predictable results. Steve Tyler could barely remember his name on the show, he just wanted to be there to annoy his bandmates, score some groupies, and get some easy money. Keith Urban is a non-entity. Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj were too busy hating the hell out of one another. J-Lo doesn't even pretend that she's on the show only to re-launch her career. I guess this leaves Harry Connick, Jr to carry this season on his shoulders, but he's more like that annoying boss that criticizes everything you do than anything else. Maybe it's the lack of a British accent. At any rate, the season didn't have a successful focus since Lee DeWyze took a big dump on the finale stage, and suffered. Harry could have been sheer genius in delivering witty remarks, but he couldn't stop the ratings hemorrhage this late in the process. Maybe they should have just canned J-Lo and use the money budgeted for her upkeep to pull a Pit Crew and have the contestants on stage being surrounded by hot near-naked dancers.