It's hard to believe it now, but there was a time not so long ago (2011) when"American Idol" was unstoppable. It was the show everyone talked about the next day, with nearly 30 million people tuning in to the season finale and the judges making news every week.
And then ... well, the bottom fell out. The Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez show got old, then the non-stop Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj shadefest turned off a lot of viewers, dropping ratings by 30 percent in a year when the pool of contestants was tepid at best, utterly forgettable at worst. And that's after they'd already plunged 30 percent the year before.
So, Wednesday night (January 15) brings yet another reboot, with Australian country good-guy Keith Urban the only judging holdover and big dawg Randy Jackson giving up his seat on the panel for the first time in the show's history. JLo is back, with former mentor and affable big band singer Harry Connick Jr. rounding out the judging table. Will that trio help crank down the show's ancient median viewer age of 51.2?
We've gotten used to the judging merry-go-round, but the show's producers swear this year they're really shaking things up in a bid to make "Idol" relevant again. Will it stick this time? MTV News breaks down the changes and puts odds on whether they'll make a difference.
No More Freaks Of The Week
A hallmark of the first few months of each season is the balance between great, good and OK singers and the truly, ear-bleedingly horrendous wannabes. Whether they're in silly costumes, off pitch or just clearly delusional about their talents, these chuckle-worthy moments are as much a part of "Idol" as Randy Jack... oh nevermind.
This season, though, for the umpteenth time, Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly has sworn up and down in interviews that "Idol" will really, really cut back on those duds in favor of the truly talented. He recently told the New York Times that the glimpses of those freaks and geeks will be "exponentially less or almost nonexistent" this time, mostly as a result of urging from Lopez, Connick and Urban to stop wasting viewers' time.
Game-changing potential: Though annoying, we've always kind of liked the joke auditions, even when they've bled into overkill. Why do we suspect people will suddenly miss them?
New, New, New!!!
Everyone old is new again. This year's show will have a new set, fresh lighting, a new theme song and, according to some reports, it might switch its finale to New York's Madison Square Garden for the first time ever.
Game-changing potential: It's gonna take more than pretty lights, a fresh coat of paint and a cross-country flight to shake all the rust off.
Just Play Guitar
Instead of making us wait until the final rounds, contestants will be allowed to play instruments during auditions. In theory, this will help some of the more musically talented ones rise to the top.
Game-changing potential: We like this and think it might help serious contenders emerge earlier than ever.
Cutting Out The Middle Man, Shaving Down The Results
Instead of endless weeks of post-audition rounds where the potential finalists are slowly, painfully whittled down to the top 100, 50, 25 and then 10 (or 12), Reilly said things will fast forward into a "two-hour blitzkrieg" episode that will sort things out way faster during pair of episodes called "Rush Week." The results shows will also be cut from an hour to a half-hour.
Game-changing potential: This is a biggie, since the lag time between the endless audition rounds and the reveal of the finalists is where "Idol" often loses us. Also, we've argued for years that the 60-minute results show is 40 minutes of waiting and time-suck and two minutes of actual TV, so condensing it to 30 minutes is a great idea. Also notable, Jackson will be back as a workshop leader during "Rush Week." We're on the fence about that one.
Will JLo, Harry And Keith Make Beautiful Music?
Producers love to talk about how "Idol" is all about the singers, not the judges, but let's not kid ourselves: it's about the judges. The singing might be great, but at the end of the day, we can't wait to hear what the panel thinks and either agree with them or throw our iPad mini at the screen before we finish that angry tweet at JLo.
Urban barely got a word in edgewise last year, relegated to looking embarrassed while Nicki and Mariah scratched each other's eyes out. But when he did, his advice was usually spot-on and delivered in a reassuring manner. Lopez had a decent run and adds a pop factor the panel is lacking, but her last tour of duty didn't exactly revive her career the way she wanted it to.
As for 46-year-old Connick, he hasn't been a pop idol outside the boomer demo in decades, but according to a recent E! News story, he's promised to be "brutally honest" with contestants, not put them down and give very specific advice.
Game-changing potential: We're all for friendly eye contact between judges and Connick seems like a nice man, but this panel ...zzzzzz.
No More Golden Oldies
One of the most frustrating elements in the "Idol" mix for years has been their musty theme weeks, which have focused on everything from disco to big band and Elvis. You know, what the kids are into. Producers have promised more contemporary music this season.
Game-changing potential: Big. It's about time.