‘American Idol’ Experts Cut Through the Judge Hype, Call for a Show Overhaul (ANALYSIS)

Jethro Nededog / July 11, 2012

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News broke this week that American Idol may be considering an overhaul of its judges panel. And as contracts go into negotiations and the “Jennifer Lopez: Will she or won’t she?” question still looms, the show could be headed for a shakeup in the form of Idol runner-up Adam Lambert.

But looking past the notion of the buzz created by a spikey-haired, pop-punk, the Lambert possibility could be interpreted as the ring of a 911 call for the FOX competition.

“The ratings are now plummeting at an alarming rate and the show looks and feels older and stodgier than the competition,” Richard Rushfield, who wrote the extensive tome on the show, American Idol: The Untold Story, tells Celebuzz. “This may be the last chance to shake it up if it’s to avoid a freefall.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Music Editor, Shirley Halperin, says that the falling ratings can be alarming to not only FOX, but several other companies with stakes in the show’s success: FremantleMedia, 19 Entertainment, Universal Music, Ford and Coca-Cola among them.

May’s Idol finale was the least-watched of the series’ 11-season run. And while 21.5 million viewers is still quite impressive, it represented a 26 percent drop from last season’s finale.

“It’s not the kind of drop you can ignore,” Halperin tells Celebuzz. “It could mean make-goods to advertisers, smaller budgets to work with, things that directly affect the bottom line. In times of desperation, drama often works and that’s what these alleged public shake-ups are. They’re also a way to test the field and see who the public reacts to.”

Rickey.Org founder, Rickey Yaneza, also stresses the importance of creating buzz at a time when Idol’s ratings are at an all-time low and other shows are crowding the genre. Simon Cowell famously dropped judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger, as well as hunky host Steve Jones after an inaugural season that averaged about 12 million viewers – eight million less than his now-famous pre-debut prediction.

“I think that Idol is taking a page from The X Factor playbook,” Yaneza, whose comprehensive coverage of the FOX talent competition and other reality TV shows has made him popular as a go-to source for fans, says.

Idol isn’t alone in taking the X Factor’s approach. The CW’s way of freshening up its long-running and ratings-challenged America’s Next Top Model meant firing original stars Nigel Barker, J. Alexander and Jay Manuel before its next Cycle. That definitely got the media and the show’s fans’ attention.

“There may be some contract negotiations in play here, but I think Idol needs the chatter now in a very competitive space,” Yaneza also says. “It seems that it’s all about The X Factor right now and it will be that way into the fall. Can Idol beat the Britney [Spears]/Demi [Lovato] combo? I don’t know. The Adam Lambert buzz was a bit weak from a non-fan standpoint.”

After Lambert came the obligatory rush among the media to name as many people that it could siphon off from tips, whispers and sheer conjecture. Of the many artists who are reportedly up for a judging position, our experts say that Miley Cyrus’ youth may be a good match for The X Factor’s Lovato and that Will.I.Am and Fergie (who had earlier this year shot down rumors she was in consideration for an X Factor slot) would bring experience and career success to the panel.

Meanwhile, Katy Perry is on record with THR as saying that she has been approached by shows, but she has some big creative projects she’d rather spend her time and energy on over judging a talent competition.

But, is a change even necessary? The ratings would say yes. And our experts pretty much agree that while Lopez is the lone keeper on the current panel, Idol should do something pretty drastic at this point.

“I think it either has to reinvent itself or go down with its aging audience,” Rushfield says.

“They really need to stop reacting to the competition and think outside of the box,” Yaneza says. “All of these things: The judge dynamics on The Voice, the over-the-top production and now the Britney star power of The X FactorAmerican Idol could have done earlier, but now they’ve fallen behind on those ideas.”

Halperin suggests a pretty huge makeover of the judges panel – as in they should be replaced every season. “That would be the most exciting thing they can do at this point,” she says. “And that’s based on the same principle of having a new batch of contestants every year.”

“It wouldn’t require too much of a commitment from the music star — so he or she doesn’t have to stop touring,” she continues. “And would keep people guessing but in a good way, not engaging in a pointless game of speculation.”

Overall, the experts we spoke to seem to think that an overhaul of some kind – especially a youthful one as Lambert’s consideration would suggest – is necessary right now.

In the meantime, one thing is clear: We’ll just have to suffer through the numerous speculations as to what (or who) those changes will be. Meanwhile, all the dimming show’s interested parties are probably crossing their fingers and hoping that this period of buzz is enough to keep the flame burning.

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