Though it has ruled the TV for much of the past decade, there were no guarantees that "American Idol" would lord the airwaves when season 10 kicked off in January. But with a champion about to be crowned in the battle of the country teens between Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, we thought we'd convene a panel of experts to sift through this year's other winners and losers.
Fox Network: The most obvious winner, according to The Hollywood Reporter's music editor Shirley Halperin is the Fox network itself. Coming into a season of vast uncertainty following the departure of three-quarters of the judging panel, including anchor Simon Cowell, not to mention a ratings dip, the network had every reason to be concerned.
"The first big winner would have to be Fox, because everyone predicted complete doom for 'American Idol' season 10," Halperin said. "Not only are the [ratings] numbers stable, they're just as strong as last season and I have a feeling the finale will top last season."
Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez: Other winners, according to Richard Rushfield, author of "American Idol: The Untold Story," are new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Surely the two music veterans have achieved exactly what they wanted with their unlikely new roles. For Tyler, the reinvention as America's wacky, loving uncle after four decades in the spotlight fronting hard-partying Aerosmith has not only helped his band move tons of back-catalog songs and albums, but also provided the perfect launching pad for his just-released memoir and debut solo single.
As for Lopez, whose reputation as an imperious diva whose music and movie careers had hit the skids, she has emerged as a less wacky, more loveable Paula Abdul type, whose exposure as a sensitive, caring career striver has helped garner her a smash hit single with "On the Floor" and decent returns on her new album, Love?.
"A year ago they were relatively irrelevant. Not a lot of people were talking or thinking about them," Entertainment Weekly Assistant Managing Editor Dalton Ross said about Lopez and Tyler. "And now both of them are in the spotlight, Steven's got a hit book, Jennifer's got a hit song and they're right back in the public consciousness."
James Durbin: Rushfield called him a dark horse, a "weird, wacky" character who managed to go far on the show and make a lot of fans, with Ross predicting that the fourth-place finisher could end up on Broadway in a show like "Rock of Ages" or with some other career that's better than his bar band past.
Country music: Though there are plenty of other shows on networks like CMT that crown new 10-gallon royalty, Ross said you should "never underestimate the country voting bloc," who proved their power this year by putting both McCreery and Alaina in the finale.
Simon Cowell: With "Idol" skating along just fine without him, seemingly on the cusp of crowning a champ who could become the first breakout star since ... well, the last country "Idol," Carrie Underwood, Ross suspected that Cowell is not too chipper these days. As he attempts to build up excitement for his fall "X Factor" launch, Cowell has seen NBC's "The Voice" become the new singing-show darling, and the critical and popular reception of his judging panel — consisting of former "Idol" foil Paula Abdul, little-known British singer Cheryl Cole and former music exec Antonio "L.A." Reid — has been tame at best, if not indifferent. "Everyone was really anticipating 'X Factor' coming, now 'Idol' has kept that audience ... and you look at 'The Voice,' ... it makes people a bit less excited for 'X Factor,' " Ross said.
The viewers: Halperin suggested that the American viewing public may be losing out, even if it's not the fault of "Idol" directly. "There's just too many singing shows coming at them," she said. "They have to divide their time between a lot of other entertaining programs."
Divas: "Idol" pushed a lot of big-voiced divas at viewers this year, but they failed to make an impact and fizzled out from early rounders Julie Zorrilla and Kendra Chantelle to top 13ers Pia Toscano, Haley Reinhart and Ashthon Jones.
Jimmy Iovine: Though you can argue that the savvy Iovine only helped his bottom line by ceaselessly promoting the Beats by Dre brand of headphones and microphones with heavy-handed product placement, as well as getting ample screen time for some of his artists (Lady Gaga, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and Sheryl Crow), Halperin wondered if maybe he was too invested in being a part of the "Idol" mix.
"It has yet to be determined what he will get out of this situation," Halperin said. "What I'm seeing is someone who has a record company to run and is spending half of his week working on contestants whose futures are unknown." In other words, the work for Iovine really begins when the show ends and he has to turn an as-yet-undetermined amount of his new protégés into stars.
A few other potential losers:
Randy Jackson: The only remaining original "Idol" adjudicator was not only overshadowed by his new cohorts, but his signature catchphrases sounded even more hackneyed and irrelevant next to Tyler's cryptic quips and Lopez's sometimes useful, insightful career advice.
Longtime "Idol" fans: If you aren't a fan of country music, you're out of luck this year thanks to Wednesday night's showdown between the first country-strong top two in show history. With pop and R&B mostly shunted to the side in the top five in favor of James Durbin's warmed-over metal and Haley Reinhart's pop blues, fans of straight-ahead ear candy were left on the sidelines of this year's competition.
Don't miss a special edition of "Idol Party Live" Thursday at noon on MTV.com for analysis, finale red-carpet coverage and the last "Idol in 60 Seconds" of season 10. Get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.