January 20, 2011 / 6:02 PM / in 7 years

"American Idol" loses viewers despite make-over

<p>Judges Steven Tyler (L), Jennifer Lopez (2nd L) and Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest (R)take part in a panel discussion for the show "American Idol" at the Fox Broadcasting Company Winter Press Tour 2011 for the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California January 11, 2011.Lucy Nicholson</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A revamped "American Idol" dominated U.S. television on its first outing but lost millions of viewers despite the addition of celebrity judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.

Some 26.1 million Americans tuned in for the 10th season premiere of the singing contest, down 13 percent on last year's opening show when nearly 30 million watched, according to Nielsen ratings data on Thursday.

The numbers still crushed all other programing on Wednesday night. But after weeks of hype and curiosity over what producers called "a new era," the numbers boded ill for hopes of restoring sparkle to the aging show and reversing a four years ratings slide.

Television critics were mostly unimpressed with their first glimpse of Lopez and Aerosmith front man Tyler as they weeded out good singers from the thousands of early auditions -- without the caustic presence of British judge Simon Cowell.

Cowell, the contest's biggest star, quit in May to launch his own talent show on Fox later in 2011.

In a column headlined "The end of 'American Idol' (for real this time)," Newsweek blogger Ramin Setoodeh wrote; "The entire franchise has gone to the land of Stepford, where everybody is so nice and sweet and happy and zippy, you feel a cavity coming on."

Washington Post columnist Lisa De Moraes quipped "Good news! Nothing's changed."

Stalwart "Idol" fans however were kinder, and appreciated the show's change of emphasis to encourage wannabe singers, rather than putting them down.

"Congratulations! Last night's premier was WONDERFUL," a fan called 104333761 wrote in a posting on the official americanidol.com forums. "I am so excited that you took emphasis off of being snarky and cruel and put more interest in uplifting the contestants and allowing us to get to know a bit of their 'stories'.

"American Idol" has been a major generator of advertising revenue to Fox television, and driven record sales and digital downloads with early discoveries like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Daughtry.

But the show has lost about six million viewers over the past four years and recent winners have seen dismal sales for their debut albums.

"American Idol" is produced by 19 Entertainment, a unit of CKX Inc., and by London-based FremantleMedia, a unit of Bertelsmann AG. Fox is a unit of News Corp. Universal Music Group is a unit of Vivendi.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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