This week's been the week of finales--some forever off of TV (24, Lost) and some for this season (American Idol, Dancing With the Stars.) And, if you're FOX, you can't help but be nervous about the American Idol franchise.
2010 was the season of transition--Paula and her on-air ramblings had left, Simon announced that this was his final season, and new host Ellen DeGeneres arrived with much publicity and promise. What we learned as we moved through season nine was that the verbal stylings of Abdul were actually a reason that viewers tuned in, DeGeneres too often seemed disinterested, and Cowell remained the villain, albeit one who seemed ready to exit quickly stage left. As a result, the impact of Idol on pop culture has subsided remarkably. Sure, the TV ratings are still high but the talent on display paled significantly this year, versus seasons past, and the show simply has not been part of the cultural conversation in recent weeks.
Preliminary television ratings for last night's finale show a 15% ratings decline, but it's in the social media space where Idol's slippage is most evident. Twitter posts for Glee far exceed those of Idol over the past week--on average, 1,745 posts per hour to 1,630 per hour. Even DeGeneres' own protege, Greyson Chance (who she discovered on YouTube), cracked the top 10 Twitter trending topics. In comparison, Lee Dewyze was in the top 10 but Crystal Bowersox was not, even though both had a weekly viewership of millions as the two Idol finalists. Chance has been on TV twice...but boasts 30+ million views of his school talent performance on YouTube.
So, how do we translate all this? It means that the reality show on-ramp to stardom is a model which appears to be fading, and that the YouTube and viral discoveries of talent could become more the norm. Next year marks season 10 for Idol--a feat many doubted, when the show premiered, would happen. Yet, after the meteoric rise of this franchise the fall could happen almost as quickly. The talent must improve dramatically, the judging crew has to be infused with a dash of controversy (who's the next Simon?), and social media techniques must replace texting as a way to inject new vigor into this potentially antique reality show model.