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As American Idol picks its best singer in years, here's five reasons why no one cares anymore

Whether soul belter Candice Glover or country crooner Kree Harrison is crowned winner of American Idol tonight, two things are clear:

The show will welcome one of its best singers in years into the winners' circle.

And fewer people than ever will actually care.

That was made plain last week, when judge Randy Jackson announced he'd be leaving the show next season amid rumors that all the judges would get the boot (since then, US Weekly has reported new judge Nicki Minaj will also leave the show, which would backtrack on gushing comments she made a few weeks ago about staying as long as they wanted her.)

It's not just that Jackson and Minaj's moves have the air of jumping off a sinking ship before get thrown overboard (for a star, it's always better to claim you moved on than to explain how you were moved out. Isn't that right, Kara DioGuardi?)

It's that American Idol has finally completed its slow descent from cultural and ratings phenomenon to well-watched TV show. Once capable of ending a rival series simply by airing in the same timeslot, a diminished Idol this year saw popular competitors The Voice and Duck Dynasty score ratings victories, as the wider showbiz world shrugged at the ongoing competition.

But Wednesday's show revealed how much some fans may be missing by tuning out early. It's as if, faced with the crashing of a showbiz giant, Idol producers finally created an actual singing competition -- fielding a final pair of contestants who manage to demolish every song they tackle, earning more plaudits from the judges every time they go onstage.

There's still time to check it out at 8 p.m. tonight. The network is warning fans that the live show will likely go longer than the 127-minute timeslot allotted on most DVR's and the current primetime schedule (that's two hours and seven extra minutes). Fox suggests recording the following half-hour after Idol's scheduled time, to make sure you see the all-important winner's announcement.   

Still, it's worth asking: How did we all get here? Here are five reasons Idol lost the magic this year:

It waited too long to shake up the contestant pool. This year, producers seem to ensure a female would win by selecting an inferior crop of guys. After years of criticism assailing the show's habit of choosing "cute white guys with guitars," not a single CWGWG made it into the crop of finalists viewers could vote on. But that also fractured the existing fanbase without convincing anybody new to sign up; a sign fans who long hoped Idol might change its ways had already given up.

NBC's The Voice proved charismatic, friendly judges trump fighting, bitter ones. The war between Idol judges Minaj and Mariah Carey quickly moved from exciting sideshow to uncomfortable distraction. And it didn't help that Carey was so worried about looking callous that she was often mushy and unintelligible. Reportedly, Carey told producers she didn't want to look like the star of a bad reality TV show, but once cellphone video leaked of her clashes with Minaj in early auditions, that ship sailed. The edgy-yet-friendly banter among Voice judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton ultimately has proven much more comforting and entertaining.

The music is too old and predictable; contestants too safe. Despite Minaj's efforts early on, Idol only embraced oddball contestants who made interesting television, not great music (frizzy-haired, melody-challenged Zoanette Johnson stands as Exhibit A). And theme nights based on music written before most every contestant was born — classic rock, Motown, Lennon/McCartney — belied every criticism from the judges to singers about staying contemporary.

Mentors are little more than celebrity accessories. Watching Harry Connick Jr. lamely joke his way through disappointing mentoring sessions with the singers this season, I wondered: Why did producers ever consider hiring this guy as a judge? And why don't they get stars who can actually up these singers' game? Like, you know, on The Voice?

It was time. After 13 years on top, viewers outside Idol's core fanbase seem ready for a new distraction, the same way eyeballs left CBS' Survivor and ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

Idol seems headed for one last desperate reinvention, likely to involve firing everyone except host Ryan Seacrest. But it's worth noting that, sometimes, TV shows just lose viewers because their time has come. And, regardless of how you feel about it now, its obvious Idol has had an amazing run.

It's just too bad its best singers in years are hitting the spotlight just as america has decided to move on.


[Last modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 6:08pm]


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