January 14, 2009 / 7:13 PM / in 9 years

"American Idol" debut audience slides

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “American Idol” launched its latest run with 10 percent fewer viewers than watched last year’s season opener, ratings showed on Wednesday, despite hoopla surrounding a new judge for the hit talent contest.

<p>File photo shows "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson with the show's newest judge Kara DioGuardi in Los Angeles, California June 8, 2006. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>

Still, the 30.1 million viewers tuning in to Tuesday night’s debut of the show’s eighth installment on the Fox network, a unit of News Corp, marked the biggest audience for any U.S. television broadcast so far this season.

The previous benchmark was held by the CBS detective drama, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” which drew 23.5 million viewers with its season premiere on October 9, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The opening-night tally for “American Idol,” down 10 percent from last year’s season premiere, marks the lowest audience total for a season-debut episode since 2004, when 28.2 million tuned in, Nielsen reported.

Ratings also were down 14 percent from last year’s opening broadcast among viewers aged 18 to 49, the group most prized by advertisers.

The show’s biggest season premiere was in 2007, watched by 37.3 million viewers.

“Idol” easily remains the most watched program on U.S. television, and Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said it was not surprising for even the most wildly popular of shows to see a ratings decline after eight seasons.

He added that the increasing tendency of viewers to record the program and watch it later has taken a toll on the show’s first-day ratings, as it has on other programs.

The cavalcade of pop-star wannabes auditioning in the two-hour “American Idol” premiere included a swimsuit-clad contestant who earned the nickname Bikini Girl, and an almost completely blind man who sang a Billy Joel song.

The show’s premiere also featured for the first time a panel of four judges, with the addition of newcomer Kara DioGuardi appraising the talent of try-out contestants in Phoenix, Arizona.

DioGuardi, a songwriter and producer, joins veteran panelists Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.

“American Idol” drew an average 28.1 million viewers each week last season. The show is a spin-off of a British hit that was brought to the United States in 2002.

The reality show has launched the careers of such recording stars as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson, who went on to win an Oscar for her performance as a Motown singer in the 2006 musical “Dreamgirls.” Last year’s winner was rocker David Cook.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman

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