Believe it or not, "American Idol" kicks off its [article id="1677406"]11th season[/article] Wednesday night (January 17), and for longtime fans of the show (like myself), it is a time of great trepidation. And not just because we've got nothing but auditions to look forward to for the next 354 weeks. Instead, rarely, if ever, has the future -- nay, the very existence -- of the program been as cloudy as it is right now.
I'm not about to float the notion that "Idol" may be on the chopping block; after all, it still pulls in massive ratings and is in about as much danger of being canceled as "CSI: Los Vegas" or whatever it's called. And it's already survived not only the [article id="1629445"]exodus of Simon Cowell[/article], but the addition (and subsequent subtraction) of several judges too. Rather, for the first time in its history, the show must not only compete with another budget-busting singing contest (that would be, of course, "The Voice," debuting after the Super Bowl next month), but it must redefine its relevancy. There was a time when "Idol" was capable of not only captivating the nation, but creating actual hitmakers, though, given the list of recent winners -- Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze -- you probably wouldn't know it.
And while you could chalk that up to the whims (and demographics) of "Idol" viewers, the gender -- and relative lack of success -- of the show's past few champs does raise a rather interesting point: If anything, "American Idol" has become a show antithetical to the current state of popular music, which has become increasingly dominated by female artists like Adele, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Tellingly, it's debatable whether any of them could even win "Idol" these days; after all, the last female champion was Jordin Sparks back in 2007, and since then, we've only had two ladies even make the finale: Crystal Bowersox and Lauren Alaina, neither of whom fit the current pop-star mold. If anything, "American Idol" has become a boys club, and while that club has certainly turned up a few gems along the way (Adam Lambert, David Archuleta), it has also very much worked to the show's detriment.
Does that speak to an aging audience, the show's declining influence or both? Are the show's glory days behind it, or can it reinvent itself once again in 2012? Those are all weighty questions -- ones that basically ensure I'll be glued to my set all season long ("American Idol" is nothing if not a rather fascinating social experiment, no?). Still, we're talking about a TV show here, so, in an attempt to provide some levity, here are my not-at-all serious predictions for the brand-new season. Accuracy not guaranteed, except for the Madonna one; I'm pretty sure she'll show up and call someone "reductive" at least once this year. So read on, fellow "Idol" aficionados," and hope my last prediction doesn't come true -- even though I'm willing to bet it does.
» Early in the auditions, I shall pronounce a bluesy, female singer with a rough-and-tumble background the legitimate front-runner, at which point my wife will discourage me from drinking while watching "American Idol."
» Jennifer Lopez chokes a contestant after an ill-advised Marc Anthony cover.
» A disheveled Lee DeWyze, covered in blood of an indeterminate origin, will stumble onto the stage and attempt to play his post-"Idol" single, "Sweet Serendipity," only to break down in tears and repeatedly shout "You did this to me" until he is removed by security.
» In a shameless and ill-advised bit of integrated marketing, FremantleMedia teams with Lionsgate for a "Hunger Games"-themed episode, in which contestants, rather than being voted off, are shot through the heart with arrows.
» Madonna will periodically make guest appearances just to throw shade at everybody.
» In a stunning heel turn, Randy Jackson will lay out Ryan Seacrest with a vicious chair shot, pose over his fallen colleague, then remove his cardigan to reveal an "X Factor" T-shirt.
» Steven Tyler: Now with 70 percent more dangly accessories.
» In an attempt to spice up the show, "Idol" producers will force the top 12 to investigate paranormal activity at that haunted mansion from last season -- you know, sort of like "Ghost Hunters" or whatever.
» Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, and based on nothing more than blind fandom, I will predict that this is the season where "Idol" rediscovers its old magic and produces a champion who ends up becoming a genuine pop superstar.
» A white guy will end up winning anyway.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.