The current American Idol team will maintain its softer and gentler approach for Season 11 — unless you mention any other singing competition shows. Executive producer Ken Warwick disses Leona Lewis, a winner on the British version of The X Factor, as a “one-and-a-half-hit star for 10 minutes.” Judge Randy Jackson slams contestants on The Voice as “second-chance people” and vows that his show would never stoop so low as to steal Star Trek’s swiveling chairs.
Fox network’s head of reality TV, Mike Darnell, also oversees the new American X Factor, but goes out of his way to point out that Idol is the one and only phenomenon.
“Everyone else chases this show,” Darnell said. “This is the gold standard.”Why all the defensiveness? Because for the first time, Idol, which returns to Fox on Wednesday, is following two similar hits. The question of audience burnout rings as loud as Steven Tyler’s wardrobe.
Not that The X Factor or The Voice have matched the juggernaut’s numbers. Each averaged 12 million viewers in their debut runs — half as many as Idol pulls. But X Factor is this season’s No. 1 new unscripted series, while The Voice was tops among rookie programs last year among 18- to 49-year-olds and will launch its second season on NBC directly after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.
Executives do their best to ignore the fact that England’s Pop Idol, the show that started it all in 2001, was canceled after just two seasons because of The X Factor’s popularity. “When Idol started, there was only one of its kind, and the truth is now there’s a lot of these shows,” said Idol producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz. “But in the end, competition is good. It means you have to raise your game.”
Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly is doing his part by trying to lower expectations, predicting that Idol’s ratings will drop this season. In fact, viewership has been eroding for more than five years.