American Idol's Ratings Woes: 8 Common-Sense Ways to Salvage Season 12

American Idol‘s Season 12 ratings continue to slip like a baby giraffe on an ice rink: Wednesday night’s Top 7 performance show drew 11.5 million viewers and a 3.0 rating (ticking down to an all-time Wednesday low).

Sure, you can blame reality-singing overload: With NBC’s The Voice now offering two cycles per year and The X Factor holding down the fort at Fox during Idol‘s off season, you’d expect audience attrition for The House That Kelly Clarkson Built, especially in its twelfth season.

VIDEO | Idol‘s Devin Velez on Nicki Minaj Feud and That Infamous Trio! Plus: Bieber & Pink Theme Nights?

But increased competition is only one part of the equation — and there are plenty of other factors for the ratings drop. It’s time for Idol‘s producers to take responsibility. As a massive Idoloonie who’d love to see the reality juggernaut stay strong and produce another generation of J.Huds and Carries and Lamberts, I’ve concocted an eight-step plan to reinvigorate Season 12 — and keep the Idol train moving forward in the coming decade.

RELATED | American Idol Top 7 Performance Night Recap: For Those Who Managed to Rock, We Salute You!

Click through the gallery below for my suggestions, then hit the comments with your own! And for all my Idol-related news, interviews, videos and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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194 Comments
  1. Here’s the one and only suggestion American Idol really needs:

    Keep the best singers, not the best stories.

    It is so infuriating to sit through the auditions and Hollywood week only to watch the best, original, exciting, entertaining singers go home just so they can shove sob stories like Lazaro down our throats instead. I don’t care if somebody stutters. I don’t care if somebody is a single mom. I don’t care if somebody’s grandfather died 6 months ago. I just want somebody who opens their mouth and makes me go WOW!!

    Other suggestions…

    I do like the all star idea but I want it done for real. Why not a season of past favorites who didn’t win and haven’t gone on to get any kind of major record release? Of course I only want to do this so Lisa Leuschner can come back.

    Go back to 3 judges. 4 means way too much talking, way too little singing. And only bring in judges who will actually be honest. No more of this Ubran, Mariah, Tyler, Lopez crap where they just say everybody is great no matter how bad it is because they’re afraid to hurt feelings.

    Stop with the boys and girls split non-sense. This is a singing competition. Take the best singers. If that means 8 boys and 2 girls but they’re ALL good, WHO CARES? On that note, stop with the age restrictions. Some of the best singers on X Factor and The Voice have either been too young or too old for AI. Stop making it so restrictive and just do everything you can to find the BEST.

    • karen says:

      Nobody shoved Lazero down our throats. His audition, in case you haven’t noticed, had millions of YouTube hits and he became viral overnight. Whether you like it or not, America was rooting for him in the beginning, and it’s been the voters who’ve kept him on.

  2. Oh and let contestants sing original material more often. It is so unfair to knock contestants for not being able to connect to or put their own spin and originality on music they sometimes have never even heard and don’t like. If you want people to be connected, if you want to see people shot their artistic ability let them perform their own songs.

  3. Kel says:

    I think it’s just run its course. I was a huge fan through season 4 and haven’t watched since 8. It’s just the same thing all the time. The songs are the same, the comments are the same, the contestants all start to look the same. And let’s be honest, the show has only produced a handful of mega stars, and those are from the earlier seasons. Nothing is fresh anymore and now there are a bunch of similar shows just like it. It had a great run, but I don’t think you can fix it. People are just over it.

    • karen says:

      Speak for yourself. If you don’t think Jennifer Hudson is a mega star, or Katherine McPhee, or Phillip Phillips, or Adam Lambert… well, I don’t know what show you’re watching, but I’m watching American Idol.

  4. Blinged Up says:

    Next week — music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
    LOLOLOLOLOL!

  5. LLA says:

    I agree with most everything you’ve said. Clear more songs–my #1 complaint. There are great songs in many musical themes that have been done–but we hear the same mediocre ones over and over. Get better judges-pay them less-use the millions in savings to clear songs.
    Micro-managing is a very close #2. I think it’s worse since Iovine has been around. Same arrangements. Seems only P2 was allowed to do his own thing most of the time. Maybe he was more stubborn than others–don’t know. But, they’ve had other creative people on idol since Iovine started and I don’t think they had much freedom.
    MC–one of the most boring judges ever. NM is a little too out there. I never loved Paula–but at least she really got into the performances and looked like she was enjoying herself. Find judges who a have personality and can think on their feet-if they have actual singing talent–that would help.
    I love seeing the past contestants on the show. Actually, I think Casey Abrams performance was the best of all. I know u dont agree–lol. Would love to see the incredible Ms Doolittle and others as well. I would love another Caley duet!!

  6. LLA says:

    PS Michael: Crystal Bowersox and Casey Abrams are hanging together in Portland right now. Hmmm. Crystal loves him–Melinda loves him–get with the program <3

  7. Scott says:

    Keith and Nicki work but Mariah and Randy don’t. Would love to see as judges: Combination of: 4 of either: Diana Ross, Elton John, Adam Lambert, Lionel Ritchie, Brad Paisley, Reba Mcyntire, Cher, or Michael Buble’

    • CAS says:

      I think I read somewhere last year that Aretha Franklin said she’d love to be a judge, as did Adam. She’d know how to spice up the singing, he knows the ropes of “Idol” and could probably do loads of creative things with the staging of numbers. Bring them on!

  8. karen says:

    Gosh, there’s so much whining and complaining here today. The talent this season is amazing. Kree, Candice, Devin, Angie, and even Janelle. They are all going to have very successful recording careers after all this is over. Unlike that ridiculous, over-the-top XFactor, or even the Voice, which hasn’t produced a single successful recording artist. Idol has a track record, as proven last season with the enormous success of Phillip Phillips. If you hate the show so much, don’t watch it.

  9. Hippiedippie says:

    The cast of judges (characters), really turns me off. There is a lot of bias with one female judge, and another that doesn’t t want to say anything negative, Keith urban just cringes,…..find some really talented judges and skip the females.

  10. Yo says:

    MIchael, you are way too creative. I woulda settled for a Pink week. sigh.

  11. jax says:

    I watched The Voice for the first time in ages this week and I was immediately struck by how fun the show was in contrast to Idol. The judges are clearly having fun and actually seem to enjoy each other’s company, something that most definitely cannot be said about Idol this season. It also seemed like I heard more music in an hour than I do on Idol.

    How to fix Idol (in addition to the many good suggestions already listed):

    1. Stop dragging out the show by filling it up with under-rehearsed duets & trios, etc. Remember the good ‘ol days when the show would start w/2 hours then shrink to 90 minutes and then (gasp!) a mere 60 minutes as the # of contestants shrank? I just can’t justify investing 2 hours to see a measly 7 solo performances.

    2. Go back to the Top 24 format with three weeks of audience voting to pare down to the Top 12. There is a lot riding on the first two eliminations because they’ll miss the tour. By the time we get to the Top Ten, the audience has had a chance to get to know the contestants. This year they started w/10 & boom! we’re down to 8 or 7 contestants before I feel like I’ve had a chance to see them all perform very much.

    3. The eliminations in Vegas this year were very anticlimactic. It was much more dramatic when each contestant would take the long walk alone to meet the judges and find out their fate. I missed that aspect of the show this year.

    4. It’s about time Idol started showcasing their alums on the results shows! It rewards the long-time viewer. I enjoy seeing how all of them have grown as artists since their time on the show. And why not help them sell records? Makes sense to me.

    5. I think most people who tune into Idol do so because they enjoy music. I would find it interesting to learn more about the process. Why not show us how the arrangements are decided or have the mentors help the contestants with song choice? That would be interesting to watch.

    6. i don’t tune in to watch the judges, but they certainly can cause me to tune out.

    The show feels so stale this year. I’m sad to say that I’m a diehard fan (or was) who just can’t muster up any enthusiasm for the show. I hope Idol can turn the ship around next year.

  12. Robert Lucina says:

    Can they just tweet the results? It would save me time and annoyance.

  13. Kris says:

    Love your ideas, specially the all-star one. been an Idol fan since season one. Just couldn’t get myself excited or curious enough to tune in last night. finally enough is enough!

  14. Gailer says:

    I would love to see all the judges perform a song each week…together.

  15. Gailer says:

    To save Idol:

    1. Only pick unique talented artists.
    2. Drop to 3 judges.
    3. Get back Paula and Simon.
    4. Better song choices.

  16. ninergrl6 says:

    All fantastic suggestions, especially #1.

    IMO Ryan Seacrest is what has always held Idol together. Why not allow him some tangible ownership and influence? He knows what’s popular & what sells. I’m sure he has a myriad of fresh ideas (theme related, guest related, etc) and music-industry friends that could help Idol.

  17. Mark says:

    You have to start with firing Nigel. That’s just for openers. Assuming the show returns for another year, maybe the rebuilding can begin under a new producer.

  18. karenb says:

    Loved all of your ideas Slezak

    And anything that includes Kris Allen has my attention!!

  19. Guitar Blue says:

    It will take a massive overhaul to get the show racing back toward 20 million viewers next year.

    An all new 3 judge panel, new floor level show managers and producers – to pick interesting talent rather than side-stories

    –and modernize by letting-go of the songbook limitations that are feeding back $ between the show and the publishers who have the song rights. It’s a back-room deal and it’s getting so old it’s not worth it – as their ad prices are going to fall with each rating drop.

  20. darcy the slutty twin says:

    I don’t think Katelyn Epperly performing on Idol is going to happen unless she has a major record. She’s not a finalist and to be honest, I don’t even remember her. The same goes for Kendra Chantelle, Ricky Braddy and various other Michael Slezak faves. Otherwise, it should be fair game and the duo of Kady Malloy and Colton Berry should be invited back to perform their gem of a cover, “Time After Time.” Melinda Doolittle and Crystal Bowersox, however, or any other finalist from the Top 12 should deservedly get a shot at showcasing their wares. Just not Kristy Lee Cook, Jacob Lusk and Tim Urban, please.

  21. Tahoe Mike says:

    Sing the whole song! No more ninety second hatchet jobs.

    • joey says:

      This is the most intelligent comment in the whole thread. If it’s a singing competition, let the performer sing the whole god-damned song!!!!

  22. Amy says:

    OT…just watched results and..
    Seriously..I’m p*ssed. Really?…re: Lazaro? This is the least credible Idol year because of the Lazaro factor. Nothing against the guy personally, whatever blah blah blah…but truly, let’s get real! He does not have the singing talent nor the ability to have a viable recording/performing career that this show is a platform for. If he proves me wrong I’ll eat my t.v. set.
    Poor Burnell. Another casualty to the Laz show. No wonder Candice cried. Also, noticeable is how no one ever goes up to Lazaro for “hugs” after elimination…not a surprise.
    Really sorry to see these results tonight. We’re gonna have a Top 3 that includes Ricky Ricardo by way of Elvis poses. Great.

  23. Angela says:

    A-Effing-MEN to numbers 2 through 5 in particular from this list. The thing that always kills me about the “contestants doing old songs” one is that I always tend to hear the judges tell a contestant afterward that the song was “too old” for them. Well, yeah, of COURSE it is, because the show doesn’t seem to want to let them actually do songs that are actually from their own generation so they have no choice but to do old songs. Duh.
    I think this list should be sent to the “Idol” producers and they should all be forced to read it. Repeatedly. Until we are certain all of this has actually sunk into their brains.

  24. Karen says:

    Not sure if it can be saved. Idol does not “make” anyone, only gives them a platform. Viewers disappointments when/if their favorite gets voted off, I think causes people to turn away or not trust the voting process. Someone mentioned limits on voting, I agree. Also open up texting to Verizon customers. As far as the judges, I don’t think they added anything this year, but don’t really have any suggestions except maybe having past winners be judges. Unfortunately AI is falling victim to the nature of the TV beast…nothing lasts forever.

  25. Maggie Mae says:

    Michael’s comments are spot on! His ideas sure need to be listened to! Idol are you hearing him? It’s so much about being in the right place at the right time for so many
    of the past idol winners/runner-ups. Kelli P. doing so well now, Carrie and Kelly C., stars,
    Kris Allen doing his thing, Adam, one of the biggest stars in Asia and kept busy all year
    in his travels there and in Europe…and, for all those anti-Adam…he did change the show
    like none other has. Whether you are a fan or not of his, Being asked by “Queen” to
    star with them on the European Music Awards for millions of people and then asked
    by them to do 6 huge shows……What could you possibly find “anti” about this. These
    men are, as Adam says:”Rock Royalty”. Music lovers are always after the different,
    the new, and, The Voice, X-Factor are that. Some watch X just to see Simon again
    and although he could be crude/rude/he was usually spot on…It was him that said:
    Adam would be an international star and that he has become. International, does
    not mean US ……..So, Idol, read MIchaels ideas again…..and, just for fun, have Kris
    and Adam on again, just for “ole times” ….Maggie Mae

  26. Tim says:

    Nice try Michael but there is no way to salvage this season. They can’t go back and re-cast it. I understand this was the only way for them to get a girl winner, because serioulsy if Crystal couldn’t beat Lee, and if Haley couldn’t beat Scotty, and if Jessica couldn’t beat P2, then the only way to get a girl winner was to simply not cast any cute WGWG. However, by doing that they have alienated their main audience and left them with no one to root for and completely disinterested in the season. We’ll just call this year a write off, let them crown their female victor, and maybe the audience will return next season. Until then, I’m enjoying the Voice, the interaction between those judges is sooooooo much better, they have me laughing out loud instead of feeling uncomfortable and annoyed.

  27. Tim says:

    I do have to give idol props this year for doing one of the things that has been suggested in the past and that is to have former idol contestants back to perform on results night. So far this season they’ve had Phillip Phillips, Casey Abrams (I so wish Haley Reinhart had joined him), Jessica Sanchez, Kat McPhee, Colton Dixon, Casey James, Carrie Underwood, and next week will be Scotty McCreery and Kelly Clarkson. I love that they’re showcasing former contestants, so good job on that idol.

  28. Lea H. says:

    What a great idea! All-Star duets with former idol contestants! I would look forward to watching every week, like I used to. I agree that 4 judges is overkill. They don’t score the contestants, they just critique, so do we really need 4 opinions? I think 3 is enough. They need to allow the contestants to do their own thing. We’ll never see those David Cook, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert moments if they don’t let loose the reigns and trust the contestants to do their own arrangements.

  29. Lisa says:

    I have whiplash from nodding my head along with your recommendations Michael. In particular, I would LOVE to see an all-star theme. There is definitely a problem with old music, but it’s highlighted by the fact that these contestants are not changing them up whatsoever for the most part. We’re spoiled from seeing David Cook, Kris Allen, Philip Philips, etc. do some really imaginative things with some of the songs they did, and regardless of what people say about the WGWG, that imagination, artistry, and frankly, sheer guts is what I was attracted to, not their looks.

    Oh, and one that you missed…Nicki grates on my nerves so much! Sometimes I think she is rude and crude, but other times I think that she is seriously lacking in intelligence. At any rate, I see nothing that she brings to the table, certainly not the younger viewer that they were hoping for. I hope they ackowledge that mistake, along with the others that you pointed out, Michael, and I’ll be back to watch next year. For now I’m done, though, and it’s with great sadness that I am giving up on a show I’ve loved from the very beginning.

  30. cimi says:

    They need another Adam, Allison, and Kris!! To me, that was thee best season EVER on Idol.

  31. Crystal says:

    A lot of terrific suggestions, but I cannot believe you didn’t mention Nicki Minaj. Clicking around the internet, talking to people I know who used to watch… the one most common thing they absolutely hate about this season is Nicki. She rude, ridiculous and usually incomprehensible. Mariah is totally thrown by Nicki. Get rid of Nicki and that panel would work much better.

  32. Crystal says:

    I think if Carrie Underwood couldn’t raise the ratings this week, I’m not sure any other All-Star appearances would.

  33. Why Adam Lambert? He didn’t win.

  34. Mafs95 says:

    SUGGESTIONS!!!!!
    .
    1) Four judges is too much, I think the 3 judges panel is the best. Also, I’d like judges who give real and constructive criticism. I simply don’t understand those “I love your courage!” or “I don’t like your lipstick tonight” comments. Why not something really useful to them? I liked, for instance, what Keith told Janelle when she sang “Just A Kiss” about the melody of the song itself that doesn’t help a lot when you’re singing solo. I liked that comment in particular because it was honest but there was some thought and it was constructive. It was about her song choice and it helped her to find out what not to choose. I don’t understand why Mariah doesn’t give more technical advice, I would really appreciate if someone did those type of comments.
    .
    2) New judges and producers!! I like Nicki and Keith, so if they came back I would enjoy because they actually seem to care about these contestants but I think I have even better options in mind: Jewel, Robin Thicke and Lady Gaga. Why those three? Firstly, they are knowledgeable about Music from many genres and are relevant artists. Secondly, they are very good singers and performers. Finally, I have previously seen them as mentors in either American Idol or The Voice and I LOVED them all because they gave good and constructive criticism that helped the contestants.
    .
    3) Less auditions and Hollywood Week. That’s the stage of the competition where American Idol loses the most percentage of viewers, while after the live shows begin the ratings tend to be stable. If I’m not mistaken, Season 6 started with 37 million people watching but before the live shows it went down to 30 million and this season premiered with 17 million viewers and it’s now with 11 million!! That’s like 35% or something similar to that!!! I think that the fact that these auditions drag along for too much time may bore some people. So, I’d suggest 4 episodes of Auditions and 2 episodes of Hollywood Week. I think that’s enough! I’d also suggest 1 hour Audition shows instead of 2 hours because I believe most people don’t have the patience to watch 2 complete hours of good-average singing.
    .
    4) Change the semi finals format. I don’t like this where we have 20 or 24 contestants cut directly to 10 or 12/13. However, I don’t like the 24 -> 20 -> 16 -> 12 either because it’s too long. I think the best idea would be a 2-week semi finals where we had 24 -> 18 -> 12. That would give the opportunity for someone who had a bad night to perform one more time for the American public and to go to the Top 12.
    .
    5) Better theme weeks. I love old songs, but too much is too much!! I want variety and something fresh and different. What about “Mash-Ups”, “Songs From Disney Movies” , “Songs From The Last 5 Years”, “Unplugged”, “Their Guilty Pleasures”, “Songs from Led Zeppelin”, “Songs from Lady Gaga”, “Singles from Previous Idol Contestants”, etc?
    .
    6) Don’t make it obvious who are your favourite contestants. It irritates the general public and it kinda feels like manipulation, even if it’s not direct manipulation. So yeah, no more “The girls are in it to win it” or “Look at these amazing trio of contestants who also had a YES from the judges”! Oh, and let them sing what they want!!!
    .
    7) Make it possible for us to vote through Itunes like The Voice does. Each sale would be the equivalent to, let’s say, 3 votes? It would give some transparency to the vote but it would also help the show to find who is really the most marketable contestant. One thing is how many people will buy your tickets or your songs on Itunes, the other is who got more votes knowing that one can vote 100x times by multiple ways.

  35. Mary Wood says:

    Michael: your ideas are great. I’d add: Drop the duets and groups and let the kids do the whole song for the solo. It’s hard to match two voices equally for a duet, and how many group performances do you remember?

    Also the interview questions are boring. I loved your Idology exit interviews and found Curtis, Devon and Paul far more interesting than in the Idol snippets.

    Song choices—I’m 66, but I DONT’ want to hear the songs of my youth all the time. Volcano, Mad World–That was cool. (Re Minaj: I notice how often you and Melissa quote her and have reconsidered my opinion (which was ick,yuck): she and Randy are honest about the songs that don’t move them emotionally, and I think that’s critical. I’m trying to be more aware of that this year—is it the singing that is moving me or the song? I always feel Mariah and Keith are trying to be nice. They have good comments about vocal issues –like which parts of the range the contestant is good in, but they lack Simon’s incisive if unnecessarily rude comments. By the way, the rock show? Where was Green Day?

  36. Jet says:

    I am thinking how much better it would be if there were real judges with real opinions adding value and actually picking contestants with talent. Let’s get Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood all as judges and make the show come alive!!

  37. Michelle says:

    It’s not all bad,there are some things I like about Idol this year. 1.They cut to the chase when eliminating someone and don’t waste time with the corny suspense thing. 2. I loved how they revealed the finalists by having them enter through doors from backstage to surprise the audience. 3. Keith Urban is an awesome addition!
    I have no problem with the females overwhelming the competition as they are heads and tails above all of the men! Deal with it men!
    Finally, I agree, 4 judges are way too many. I thought they would have learned their lesson from the year they added Ellen. And Moriah’s clumsy commentaries make me uncomfortable, “darling”.

  38. solan says:

    In order to regain American Idol’s leadership, the top American singing competition must increase its prestige.American Idol became since long a national institution, as such it needs to follow Grammy, and Tony.
    It means that the producers should improve the incentives for the contestants and offer those more equally: 3 major valuable prizes for the overall best 3 contestants. voting in categories: most popular, best singer, best performer, most promising, most original- artistic. and offering valuable prizes in each category. Judges prize. Mentors’ prize. Best musical arrangements. etc.i
    All that will prevent heart-break situations;” all or nothing” like in X-Factor: 5 million dollars or mental break-down.
    American Idol needs to offer musical scholarship for the most promising yet disadvantaged.It needs to create 3 leagues A,B,C for better selection. The contestants need psychological help for reducing anxiety and stress and gaining confidence. It can be done in groups and individually.
    All those will raise American Idol from its mediocrity and will regain its leadership in the field of singing competitions.

  39. David says:

    Every show the contestants should pick their own songs. This theme show songs is stupid. The era of the “Ann Margaret” entertainer is over. Trying to have Motown singers sing country, rock singers sing Motown and country singers singing Marvin Gaye song is insane. Some stellar examples “Frank Sinatra” , “Whitney Houston” and “Burt Bacharach” themes. How are you going to get any momentum going for the shows when you have song choices no one cares about anymore?

  40. margestein says:

    BIG IF:
    if the producers of Idol are allowed to read these blubs, they will realize that the show is over — fini.
    if they keep on trying to revive a dead horse, they better get used to the idea that sponsors DO read the negative blurbs and keep that in mind when they choose to not buy airtime.
    there are so many “wrongs” about the show, it is useless to list them.
    the best i can come up with is there are too many singing shows. they all blend together.
    there certainly is no big talent on idol and nothing to root or boo for.
    suggestion:all brits with simon as their first name should start looking for greener pastures.

  41. Lillian says:

    This season is one of the worst, by far. (I thought the Jordin Sparks season was dull, but this one might have the edge!) The talent has been mediocre. Even if some of the singers are sort of great, they sing such boring songs and they aren’t doing anything different or unique to make it exciting. Either that, or some of them just don’t have star power and charisma. But really, gone are the days of the voices that really got my attention and made me get goosebumps (like Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson – even Clay Aiken in his 2003 prime!). Gone are the soulful or charismatic rockers who could put an interesting spin on any type of song they sang (David Cook, Adam Lambert, Krystal Bowersox).

    The 4 judges are useless. They talk so long and have almost nothing constructive to say – only praise, and more praise, and they give silly standing ovations that were not earned, etc. The judges like everyone and no one is bad or weak in their opinions, so they let weak, bland singers through the auditions instead of really cracking down and being picky. Meanwhile, the singers are not getting better. Kree – who they constantly rave about – is average. She is not an outstanding singer in any way.

    I wish we had more of an eclectic mix of singers this year. Too often the top 10 or top 12 seems stacked with country artists or R&B artists, which can be boring for people who are not into country or R&B. I wish there were a fair and honest way to arrange it so that the final 10 or final 12 was comprised of 2 or 3 singers each from maybe 4 or 5 genres – just to make it interesting and even.

    I mean this in all seriousness – Jimmy Iovine is now the best thing about American Idol. He has the credibility to back up his opinions, and his opinions are usually spot on. He should really sit on the judging panel instead of hiding behind the scenes.

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