It's no secret that this has been a rough season for "American Idol." With buzz on the top 10 at a low boil at best and ratings off by double digits for the second season in a row, the once untouchable prime time champ has been on the ropes.
That might explain why, according to the Hollywood Reporter, producers were so desperate to turn the beat around that they considered shaking things up in recent weeks by dumping highly paid, but lackluster new judge Mariah Carey with former two-season panelist Jennifer Lopez.
Citing unnamed "knowledgeable" sources, the trade magazine said Carey's team responded with the threat of legal action, which scuttled the plan. Even so, the story claims that the show's producers are still negotiating with Lopez to appear on the show's May finale, even as a search has already begun to replace Carey, and possibly fellow newbies Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban, and even lone original judge Randy Jackson.
"This is just another ridiculous 'Idol' judge rumor, likely started by talks of Jennifer performing on the finale," a Fox spokeswoman told the Reporter in a statement; a spokesperson for the show could not be reached for comment at press time. "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe seconded that emotion, saying, "I have not been included in any conversation regarding replacing Mariah with Jen this season."
With producers worried about the downward ratings slide, the Reporter said they thought a surprise judge switcheroo might help reverse the trend. Part of the problem is that despite her multi-million salary, Carey has proved to be a bland judge, prone to rambling, vanilla comments that haven't provided many breakout moments.
Though an early story line played up the tension between Carey and the more acerbic, opinionated Minaj, the boiling undercurrent of hostility (punctuated by Minaj's frequent eye-rolling and looks of boredom) between the two hasn't made for particularly must-see TV, either. In fact, a source told the Reporter that internal network research showed that Minaj is not connecting with some of the show's key demographics. "The core viewer is a Midwestern, Southern, older woman who is threatened by Nicki's aggressiveness," said one source.
Whether the rumors are true or not, there's no doubt that season 12 has been a rough ride for "Idol." After a decent start, Wednesday night's performance shows have put up their worst numbers since the show's debut season in 2001, with ratings slipping almost every week. The attrition is understandable given the show's age, but the hardest pill to swallow is that NBC's competing "The Voice," which added Shakira and Usher for it's current season, has been putting up solid ratings in the key adults 18-49 demo (5.2 to "Idol"'s 4.3), while "Idol" hit rock bottom last week when preliminary numbers had it losing to a repeat of "The Big Bang Theory."
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