American Idol 12 – A Few Thoughts On Format Twists and The Future

American Idol auditions will make three more stops–in Long Beach and San Antonio on Wednesday, and Oklahoma on Thursday.

The following week, the action shifts to Hollywood (Actually North Ridge, CA!) where boys and girls, for the first time ever, will compete separately.  By the end of the round, the field will be cut down to 20 boys and 20 girls, who will go on to compete in the Las Vegas round.

Just as a point of comparison, 70 contestants survived Hollywood last year to go on to perform in group rounds in Las Vegas. The judges whittled THAT group down to 42, who sang for one last time in a solo round to compete for the Top 24.

This year, the boys and girls will compete separately all the way through until the finals!  The Las Vegas groups are gone. Instead, there will be 4 shows- 2 for boys and 2 for girls-with 10 contestants competing. At the end of each episode, the judges will eliminate 5 contestants.

The good news is that viewers will have the opportunity to get to know each and every one one of the Top 40.  By the time the Top 20 “sudden death” performance week begins, we should know each contestant pretty well. Still, I’m sure the producers will still manage to find ways to screw canon fodder, even if every hopeful receives equal camera time.

Viewers will then have the opportunity to vote at the Top 20, which isn’t really a twist. It’s the fewest number of contestants ever to compete in a semi-final round, but viewers have ALWAYS had the opportunity to participate in choosing the finalists.

In the end, there will be 10 left standing. but many more weeks to fill with competition. Producer, Nigel Lythgoe, has said there will be no wild cards or contestants added to the finalists. He feels 10 is a nice round number. But how will the producers fulfill their commitment to FOX to deliver a certain number of episodes?  I can’t help thinking a twist is headed our way that we don’t know about yet.

As far as the changes we DO know. It seems the girl/boy split is the biggest. So what’s the point?  Despite noises to the contrary, I think the producers are dying for a female winner. We haven’t had one since season 6, while competitors, X Factor and The Voice have been able to deliver (Season 1 X Factor champ, Melanie Amaro, and The Voice’s most recent winner, Cassadee Pope).  Judging by the audition rounds, where the girls seem hella more talented than the guys so far, the plan seems to be to  stuff the female side with as much talent as possible.  If that is Nigel’s strategy, I am skeptical it will work. Promoting less talented boys, will simply mean a less talented boy will win.   Idol will have more success attacking the “problem” from a personality perspective.  If they can find and promote a talented girl with an appealing personality, they may have a chance. A girl with an all American appeal and an effervescent (but not cocky!) personality could do the trick.

But does it matter? I think the viewer attrition has much to do with the fact that American Idol is an aging show–its format not so bright and shiny any more.  The X Factor and NBC’s The Voice have offered an alternative to those looking for something different. Plus, network ratings are down across the board anyway.

It’s impressive that American Idol has managed to stay relevant for over a decade, continuing to produce alum who can sell records.  Integrating UMG and honcho, Jimmy Iovine into the competition process has had it’s drawbacks–taking away some of the contestants’ autonomy and much of the risk–but  the upside, is that by the time the competition is over, the label and 19R have a really good handle on how to market their newly-minted alums.

The fact that The Voice has nothing remotely as sophisticated in place, means it will be nearly impossible for them to compete with Idol in the post-show marketplace.  Simon Cowell has a proven track record and a better shot at matching Idol alum’s success. But so far, despite his UK successes like One Direction and Cher Lloyd, he seems to be mishandling his American counterparts.  Season 1 winner, Melanie Amaro falling off the face of the earth is exhibit a.

But I digress. The short of it is that I still love singing competitions, but their era at the forefront of popular culture is pretty much over, I think.  Any tweaking of the American Idol formula by Nigel and company, or the show’s alums continuing to produce hit records,  may keep the ratings from falling precipitously, but the glory days, I believe, are gone forever.

Rambling essay brings up many questions:

How do you feel about American Idol 12’s new twists? Will they help or hurt the show? Does it matter?
Is the WGWG thing really affecting ratings? Does Idol need a girl to win?
Are you still as enthusiastic about singing competitions as you once were?



About mj santilli 34890 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!