Why do you watch American Idol? Is it because watching amateur musicians do karaoke on live television makes your heart soar and reminds you of the triumphant power of the human spirit? Or are you more the type that likes to wallow around in shallow pools of schadenfreude while a nasty British judge reminds the contestants of their marginal talent and marketability? Well, if your interests in Idol tend to lean more toward the former, you’ll be happy to know that Fox is very close to renewing their deal with 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia to air another three seasons of Idol to keep the show on the air through 2014 (Side Note: It feels so weird typing such a futuristic date!). However, as you’ll no doubt recall, reports surfaced earlier this week that Simon Cowell might bolt from the show in favor of developing an American version of his hit British show X-Factor, which would also likely air on Fox. All of which leads to the question, what is Fox thinking?
Well, first off, it would be silly for Fox to prematurely stick a fork in one of the most popular (not to mention one of the most profitable) franchises on American television. Based on the meek album sales for recent winners and runners-up on the show, it’s clear that American audiences aren’t necessarily watching the show because they are in desperate need of a way to discover new musicians; viewers still tune in en masse two (and sometimes three!) nights a week even though past winners have been dropped from their label deals. And despite mounting evidence that the popularity of the franchise is waning — the ratings for the show peaked back in 2006 and have been declining ever since — there’s clearly nothing in Fox’s development pipeline that they feel could match Idol’s success (even if ratings continue to slide).
But what would happen if Simon bolted? The show’s producers ensured that the show wouldn’t skip a beat when they were able to convince Ellen DeGeneres to fill in for the dearly departed Paula Abdul, but is there anyone out there who could really replace Simon? Cowell seems to be betting on the answer to that question being a firm “No”; otherwise, why would he try to launch a competing product? He clearly thinks that viewers will follow him from Idol to X-Factor (if the rumors come to fruition).
At the end of the day, the question seems to be this: Is there truly enough of a market to sustain not one, but two singing competitions on television, let alone on the same network? Based on the American public’s tepid response to NBC’s America’s Got Talent (which, we recognize, is more than a singing competition, but just go with us on this one), we’re not sure that the demand exists. Either way, though, the next few weeks and months sure will be interesting to watch!