On Monday (January 11), Simon Cowell shocked "American Idol" fans by announcing that he was leaving the show at the completion of its ninth season, with plans to launch a U.S. version of "The X Factor" in fall 2011.
But, for those who follow "Idol" for a living — bloggers and industry experts — the news was pretty much anything but a shock. Rather, it was the culmination of months of rampant speculation, fueled by members of Cowell's family and his impending launch of "The X Factor." And, really, it's sort of become par for the course at this point.
"There have been a lot of hints about him leaving. His own brother [Tony] said on his podcast that Simon would be leaving, and there was a lot of chatter that was reported across the pond in England," blogger MJ Santilli, who runs the "Idol" site MJ's Big Blog told MTV News. "And we've been hearing for a month now that 'X Factor' would be coming to the States, so I wasn't shocked today. I wasn't sure how soon an announcement would be made. I just figured they'd wait until the season was over."
"For several seasons now, we've taken part in the 'Will Simon leave or won't he?' dance that precedes every 'Idol' season and follows every 'Idol' season. It always comes up, and he always seems a little ambivalent about it," Entertainment Weekly senior writer Michael Slezak said. "The show sort of trades in that. That said, I was a bit surprised by the announcement. ... Maybe not shocked, but if you would've asked me two weeks ago, I would've said they would've waited until the end of the season to do it. It kind of makes sense, though, because is there any better advertisement for the upcoming season? It's not just a cherry on top of the sundae; it's like an extra sundae on top of the sundae."
So while those who follow "Idol" closest are in agreement that Cowell's exit was pretty much inevitable, they are at odds about what it means for the show's upcoming season — and about where the show goes from here.
"I have no idea what to expect, but I'm definitely excited. I think [new host] Ellen [DeGeneres] will play an even bigger part in the show now," said blogger Rickey Yaneza, who runs Rickey.org. " 'Idol' will definitely continue on without him. The show is a bit of a Super Bowl moment in America already, so no matter who the judge is, as long as they keep the formula going — talented contestants and intelligent judges — it will be OK. It might be jarring for some viewers not to see Simon sitting there, but 'Idol' is the brand; it's not Simon Cowell."
"I think it might help the season, because people might tune in to see the last season of Simon, and maybe he'll stop phoning it in. For the past couple years, he's been bored out of his skull," Santilli said. "I know a lot of people are saying 'Bye, "Idol," nice knowing you,' but I'm not so sure. ... It's definitely a big crossroads for the show, though. I think the show is bigger than anyone on it, but they have to be careful with who they choose to replace him with, because they're going to need to find someone who can fill his role without actually trying to follow in his footsteps."
And one thing seems certain: "Idol" fans — even those who may have strayed from the show over the past few seasons — will return in droves for season nine. Whether they stay beyond that remains to be seen, but even if they flee en masse, you probably don't have to worry about "Idol" disappearing from our airwaves any time soon — even with Cowell's new project looming on the horizon.
"It's funny, because when people have been talking about 'X Factor,' they're like, 'Will it pull "Idol" off the air?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm sure Fox will want to pull the #1 show off the air,' " Slezak laughed. "It's impossible to sit here and say that losing Simon probably won't lead to a ratings decline for 'Idol,' but I don't think it will obliterate its audience. I mean, the show can lose a quarter of its audience and still be a massive hit. Plus, there's not an 'Idol' fan alive who hasn't uttered the words, 'Well, I'm not watching next season.' ... That's an annual rite of passage, and somehow, for eight straight seasons, the producers have managed to pull you back in. I would not underestimate the 'Idol' machine's ability to do it again, with or without Simon."
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