Why Is ‘American Idol’ Slipping In The Ratings?

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest (FOX)

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest (FOX)

Early returns have this week’s performance episode of ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ which aired on Monday night and featured the contestants jiving and twirling to songs from the movies, beating the overall ratings of Tuesday night’s ‘American Idol‘ performance episode, which showcased the singers’ inspirational sides, for better or worse.

‘Idol’ has long been a ratings powerhouse for Fox, and while its audience numbers are still quite solid, the fact that it’s consistently coming in second to ‘Dancing’ — this is the third week that ABC’s celebrity hoofing has bested Fox’s parade of singing hopefuls out of five where the two shows have aired — is worth noting, particularly in this year of transition for the show. In an effort to further figure out this year’s ratings slide, I asked a few of my favorite ‘Idol’ recappers what they thought was ailing the show most this season.

“It’s all about casting,” says MJ Santilli of MJ’s Big Blog. “‘Dancing with The Stars’ ratings are up because the producers assembled a cast that captured viewers imaginations. It didn’t hurt to have tabloid fodder like Kate Gosselin on board. Viewers want to tune in to see what she’ll do next.”

And even though Gosselin’s casting was controversial — and ABC’s competitive advantage in that category might be wiped out by her elimination this week — Santilli still sees problems with this season’s ‘Idol’ starpower.

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“The group of contestants Idol cast this year are all decent singers, but boring and terrible performers, except for Crystal Bowersox,” said Santilli. “It’s torture watching them perform, and the result is a collective ‘who cares.’ I expect the whole lot to fall off the face of the earth once the season is over.”

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Melinda Green of Top Idol agreed with Santilli about the lack of “wow” factor among the contestants — and the trouble many ‘Idol’ hopefuls have had once they’re outside the show’s cozy, Ryan Seacrest-hosted confines.

“Past contestants of the show are more remembered as pop culture footnotes than relevant recording artists,” Green said. “Going on the show is more of a liability of you want to be taken seriously as an artist, and that makes it difficult to expand your audience. “

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Sean Fennessey, who covers ‘Idol’ for GQ.com, thinks the problem lies at the end of the judges’ table.

“I really do think Simon’s malaise and lack of commitment this season has been a factor,” Fennessey said. “His going-through-the-bitchy-motions is terribly transparent.”

Green agreed that some of the problem might be from the judges’ table — although she thought that viewers’ apathy comes from what the panel has been lacking.

“Paula was the heart of the judges’ panel,” said Green. “Kara DioGuardi, silver lame halter dresses and crocodile tears won’t ever make her Paula Abdul.”

Green also thought that Simon’s onset of senioritis wasn’t helping viewers get too excited about watching.

“It’s obvious Simon has checked out and is counting his days until ‘X Factor’ comes to the States,” she said.

My answer to the ‘Idol’ ratings woes? A healthy mix of the hypotheses put forth by the above experts, plus age — ‘Idol’ is now in its ninth season, and viewers are looking for something a little newer, maybe even a little flashier. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Simon chose this season to be his last; he knew that the show’s age had aged just enough, and by leaving for ‘X Factor’ when he did he’d be going out if not on top, at least near it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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