Maybe, maybe not. Too soon to tell. But I do think the show faces an existential crisis.
I dropped out of watching the show after American Idol Gives Back because it occurred to me at the time that the mega-special was an enormous, possibly fatal, betrayal of the audience, on two grounds. The first is that the American Idol franchise is half built on the art of the tease as they draw out their results shows once a week.
If you're good at it, you can tease the audience for forever. But the only Cardinal Rule of the Tease is that you absolutely, positively must deliver the payoff. During Idol Gives Back, the producers teased the audience for two excruciating hours, pretending that they were going to send someone home. And then, at the final moment, went back on their word. That's very, very bad. It breaks your bargain with the audience and makes them much less forgiving. I don't know if you can ever re-establish that trust once it's gone.
The other betrayal of "Idol Gives Back" was the show's honesty. A big part of the appeal of American Idol is that Simon is unscripted and, if not heartless, then at least clinical enough not to pull his punches because of sentimentality or politeness. That gives the show its tiny frisson of danger. The Idol Gives Back show gave us a neutered, Hallmark-ready Simon. Which is death.
I don't think audiences want to believe that Simon can be as pre-packaged and fake as everyone else on television because it introduces the possibility that even his critical schtick is an act. And the minute audiences believe that Simon is playing a part is the minute Idol starts to wane.
It's completely possible that I'm overstating things, but the numbers on Idol post-Gives Back must be giving Fox a fright--it's down and now tied with the much-diminished House.
Maybe Idol will make a comeback and this is nothing more than a blip, but I suspect that the Gives Back show may have been the night when Idol began its gradual eclipse from the culture.
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