The early- to mid-2000s were a simpler time in music. Rock music was actually thing on popular radio. Production on hit singles was often stripped down nearly to its core rather than with bombastic synths and beats. People still (kind of) bought albums, at least early on in the decade. And American Idol was more about the singers than it was the judges.
But in 2010, a slight shift could be noticed in the priorities of the Idol producers. Ellen DeGeneres was brought on as a judge, despite her noticeable lack of relevance within the music industry but definite sway in terms of a broader entertainment demographic. The next two seasons, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joined the judges’ table with mainstay Randy Jackson. Though their inclusion on the show didn’t leave folks scratching their heads in the way DeGeneres did, it was nonetheless evident that Idol was looking to boost ratings with this new crop of judges, though said judges never really outshone the singing talent.
Then came 2013.
After the departure of Tyler and Lopez, Idol enlisted country star Keith Urban, pop icon Mariah Carey and hip-hop superstar Nicki Minaj as the new guard of the show, joining the cockroach of Idol‘s judges table, Jackson.
What has followed is a strange, strange season of the flailing singing competition, during which many are only just now getting a handle on some of the contestants at all — and they’re already down to a mere eight. During certain audition episodes, there were barely even any major moments or even many auditions at all, put on the backburner in favor of the judges’ crazy sayings, disagreements and even arguments that were played up for a live TV audience. Chief among these were Minaj and Carey’s Charlotte spat that made headlines for months after the two disagreed on something as miniscule as contestant Summer Cunningham’s diction.
Even with the new judges and the allure of the Minaj-Carey fight, it hasn’t been a spectacular year in terms of ratings for the former Nielsen juggernaut. The show premiered with a mere 17.8 million viewers, down a few million from the 21.9 million viewers who tuned in for 2012′s premiere. This season’s sole bright spot has been the aforementioned Charlotte audition show (i.e. Minaj and Carey’s beef hour), grabbing the top ratings spot that night with 16.07 million viewers after loads of pre-promotion for the episode. Still, that was still a drop from the premiere, signifying that viewers were, indeed, already getting bored of the experiment. That said, its premiere still topped that of The Voice, which debuted to 13.64 million viewers this past Monday (March 25).
But The Voice is in the same boat to an extent, featuring two new judges in 2013: Shakira and Usher. While its premiere may have paled in comparison to Idol‘s, it will likely beat its Fox competitor overall this season. Idol brought in a mere 12.94 million viewers during last week’s top nine performance show, with 11.65 million tuning in for the results — the lowest of the season. But hey — at least it’s not the U.S. version of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, which premiered last September to 8.73 million viewers and only topped 10 million once all season.
With just seven weeks left and the focus finally shifted toward the contestants instead of the drama, it’s as good a time as any to take a closer look at the Idol judges in relation to what they’re actually there to do: judge. Report card time!