The producers of American Idol have promised significant format changes for the upcoming Season Ten, following a year that was a major disappointment both artistically and in the ratings. But the first big announcement of the offseason is likely to strike most Idol fans -- at least its adult fans -- as a leap in the wrong direction.
The Idol big thinkers have decided to lower the minimum age requirement for contestants from 16 to 15, justifying the move by saying that teenagers are getting serious about pursuing show business careers earlier than ever.
Unstated, but clearly part of the decision process, is that ratings for Idol have been dropping even faster among young audiences than they have with the public at large. If the show makes it easier for teens to compete, the thinking apparently goes, the more apt their peers will be to tune back in.
There's a major problem with this theory, which is that there is no evidence that there is a hidden talent pool of 15-year-olds just waiting to be tapped. Even the previous age limit of 16 was arguably too low, as only one person under 19, Jordin Sparks (17 at the time of her Season Six victory), has ever won Idol.
It is more common to see teens get through the Idol audition process before they have a mature artistic sensibility, when they would have been better advised to wait an extra year or two. Allow high school freshmen to compete, and it's guaranteed we're going to see even more teenage flameouts. (One wonders if Idol would have dared to announce this move if Simon Cowell, known hater of the perky and precocious, were still associated with the show.)
Auditions for Season Ten begin in Nashville on July 17, at which time Idol may still be searching for its new Simon.