"Every season is different," RCA Music Group executive VP/GM Tom Corson says. "Yes, some seasons are a little stronger than others. One season you have Taylor Hicks, the next you have Carrie Underwood. We often don't know until six to nine months down the road how the contestants will resonate."
"The talent isn't much worse than before," says Richard Rushfield, the former Los Angeles Times "Idol" maven who now blogs about the show for the Daily Beast. "But what you don't have is a breakout sensation that rises above the pack, the way Adam Lambert did last year, the way David Archuleta and David Cook did the year before, the way Carrie Underwood or Chris Daughtry did. Those people didn't necessarily win, but they gave their seasons a great story."
STILL NO. 1
All hand-wringing aside, "Idol" is still No. 1 in the ratings and still commands the highest ad rate of any program, which Fox executives pointed out during the network's May 16 upfront presentation in New York. "We're aware the show is off about 9% this year, but in comparison to other shows that's actually pretty good," Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice said. The network also announced that it would trim the show's elimination episodes down to 30 minutes for season 10. "The audience wants us to tighten up the results show and they want more performances, so that's what we'll give them next year," Rice said.
"Idol" also continues to provide a powerful sales boost to artists who appear on the show.
Sean "Diddy" Combs performed "Hello Good Morning," his current single with Dirty Money, on the March 31 results show a day after the track's digital release. It subsequently sold 81,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, to debut at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. Shania Twain's "Greatest Hits" set returned to the Billboard 200 with 7,000 copies, according to SoundScan (a 251% increase), after she mentored country week. When Harry Connick Jr. served as mentor during Frank Sinatra week, sales of his "Your Songs" album jumped 531% to re-enter the Billboard 200 at No. 58, while Sinatra's hits compilations "Nothing but the Best" and "Classic Sinatra" re-entered at Nos. 129 and 194, respectively (up 81% and 43%).
Season-eight runner-up Lambert mentored the contestants during Elvis Presley week, and as a result he earned his first top 10 hit on the Hot 100. Performed on the April 14 results show, Lambert's "Whataya Want From Me" doubled its download sales the following week to 108,000, according to SoundScan, enough for it to earn the week's Digital Gainer award and move 29-8 on the Hot Digital Songs chart.
Lambert's stint was also notable in that it was the first time an "Idol" contestant returned to the show as a mentor. The choice of Lambert suggests that "Idol" now treats its more successful runners-up with as much or more deference as its winners.
"[There's a] perception of winning not really being important," Fancast's Johnston says. "The whole message of having Adam Lambert be the first contestant to come back and be a mentor was sort of curious. It's like, 'Well, is the goal winning, or is it just making a splash on TV?' "