There was a time, not that long ago, when American Idol was the biggest show on television. Imported from the UK–along with the famously caustic judge Simon Cowell–Idol brought in more than 30 million viewers per episode during its heyday.
After a handful of memorable winners and alumni–Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson all became major stars–it became clear that American Idol, however, wasn’t a ticket to guaranteed stardom. Viewers drifted over to The Voice for a fresh take on the singing competition format. And, at last, the show was canceled in 2016.
The rebooted Idol has only been around for a season and a half, but things don’t look great for the future. The current season has been pulling in all-time low numbers for the series. That’s despite some genuinely talented artists–and the antics of Katy Perry, who will apparently do anything to make sure that audiences are paying attention to her.
On Sunday’s Disney-themed evening, Katy showed up dressed as Ursula the Sea Witch, complete with tentacles and face paint. It was an impressive look–if she was at a comic book convention. But it’s hard to take her feedback, which is often surprisingly insightful, seriously when she’s painted purple and trailing sequined tentacles.
Disney night featured underwhelming performances from almost everyone in the top 10. Even Alejandro Aranda, the viral sensation whose incredible musicianship has already garnered a legion of passionate fans, failed to deliver a stand-out performance.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, a former church janitor struggling to reconcile his identity as a gay man with his conservative religious family, stood out from the crowd with his soaring vocals. But he chose a cheesy, lukewarm torch song–“Candle on the Water”–that played things disappointingly safe.
The most recent episode also led to an impassioned debate on Twitter when the only two black men in the competition were eliminated. Classically trained opera singer Dimitrius Graham–Katy called him the “male Beyonce”–was sent home along with dynamic performer Uche.
Of course, it’s not technically the show’s fault that these two contestants were sent home. The eliminations were based solely on live voting by the public during the broadcast.
But that format, which worked so well when the show was must-see television and DVRs were a relatively new invention, doesn’t make as much sense now. Not when so many people prefer streaming instead of broadcast.
The difficulty that R&B artists like Dimitrius face is likely due, in part, to the demographics of the show’s audience. It never skewed particularly young or hip, even at the height of its popularity. Let’s be real: Most people under the age of 55 are going to be watching Game of Thrones every Sunday for the rest of the summer.
So who is still tuning in to watch Idol? And will they come back for another season after this one wraps in a few weeks? Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry do a decent job as judges. No arguments there. But it’s rumored that Ryan Seacrest is eager to retire as host and plans to hand over his duties to Bobby Bones instead.
With the success of The Masked Singer, it seems clear that audiences have moved on to bigger, weirder shows. American Idol feels increasingly irrelevant. Maybe it’s time to let the show end once and for all.