Cowell exit is not only challenge facing 'Idol'

Thu May 27, 2010 2:34pm EDT
 
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The finale of "American Idol" drew its smallest audience since 2002 after a lackluster season that saw America's most-watched show lose its biggest star and posed challenges over how to recapture its sparkle.

An estimated 24.2 million viewers tuned in to the Fox network on Wednesday evening to watch Lee DeWyze beat Crystal Bowersox, and to bid farewell to British judge Simon Cowell -- an 18 percent drop from last year, according to preliminary ratings figures on Thursday.

The nine-year-old TV singing contest was the No.1 U.S. show of the night and has retained its top rating this season for the 7th consecutive year. But audiences were down nine percent this season to an average 23.9 million, compared to a 2006 high of about 30.8 million.

Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice told reporters earlier this month that there was "no bigger question this summer" for the network than the replacement of Cowell.

The acid-tongued British judge has quit to launch his own show on Fox in 2011, saying he was bored after nine years on "Idol."

Cowell is not alone when it comes to "Idol" fatigue. Media watchers say Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, and "Idol" producers need bigger fixes if the show is to recapture its buzz and retain its fans.

"If they are smart, they will look at this as a way to re-boot the show from top to bottom, starting with the auditions, which were once funny, to the weekly themes like Elvis and the Beatles, which are getting stale," Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak told Reuters.

The addition of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as a judge earlier this year was widely seen as a disappointment.   Continued...

 
<p>Former American Idol judge Paula Abdul (L), judge Simon Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest are seen onstage after performing a tribute to Cowell at the American Idol Grand Finale 2010 in Los Angeles, May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Vince Bucci/Fox/PictureGroup/Handout</p>