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Scott D. Pierce: ‘Idol’ producers try to decide what went wrong

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Lee DeWyze, left, Crystal Bowersox and Casey James are the three remaining contestants on "American Idol" this season.

Lee DeWyze, left, Crystal Bowersox and Casey James are the three remaining contestants on “American Idol” this season.

Michael Becker, Fox

Rachel, Kurt, Sue, Artie, Will, Mercedes, Puck, Tina, Finn and Quinn are very much a topic of conversation among teens and 20-somethings these days.

Simon, Kara, Randy, Ellen and Ryan — not so much. Let alone Crystal, Lee and Casey. Whoever they are.

Granted, I've come to this conclusion, in part, by the most unscientific of methods — talking to a few teens and 20-somethings and asking them if anybody they know is talking about "Glee" or "American Idol."

And the answers were invariably "Yes" to "Glee" and "No" to "Idol."

Seemingly everybody has an opinion about Rachel and Finn's relationship; about what songs in the last episode of "Glee"; about where that show is going.

And nobody has an opinion about who's going to be the next "American Idol" because nobody's watching.

How bad have things gotten at "American Idol"? Bad enough so that the show's producers have put a questionnaire online to try to figure out what's wrong with the show.

I could have saved them the trouble by summing it up in three easy answers.

First, the judges and the host have become pretty much insufferable. They're under the impression the show is about them, not the contestants.

Second, those judges have saddled the show with a group of uninspiring, uninteresting and not particularly talented finalists.

And, third, the show has lost its freshness. It's no longer a phenomenon.

For each of the past seven years, "American Idol" has dominated not only the ratings but the headlines as we entered May. (Season 1 ran in the summer of 2002.)

Two years ago, the most written-about person in Utah was "Idol" finalist David Archuleta — and there wasn't even a close second.

I'm not apologizing for all the coverage we gave Archuleta in 2008. It was what a whole lot of people were interested in.

But, at this point, I wonder if much of anybody would care if we had a local in the top three this season.

(C'mon, how many of you could attach last names to this year's final three — Crystal, Lee and Casey?)

It's not unusual for a show to lose steam in its ninth season. As a matter of fact, it's unusual for a show not to lose ratings at that point.

Overall, "Idol" is down about 9 percent from last year. And last year was down about 9 percent from the year before.

But it's more ominous that "Idol" is down about 13 percent if you compare the numbers after the finalists were announced.

And, while almost 30 million viewers tuned in to the ninth-season premiere back in January, that number fell below 18 million in recent weeks (although it ticked up above 19 million for Wednesday's episode).

There have even been weeks when "Glee" did better numbers among the 18-to-34 demographic than "Idol."

Some wags have suggested that the only people left watching "Idol" are preteen girls, their mothers and grandmothers. That's a huge exaggeration ... but there is a kernel of truth in there.

Not that the news is all bad for "American Idol." The phenomenon may be over — and more suddenly than just about anybody imagined — but what remains is a big hit show. Yes, ratings have dipped dramatically this season, but "American Idol" remains among the most-watched shows on TV.

You need look no further than "Survivor" to see how this sort of things works. The first few seasons of that CBS reality show were a genuine pop-culture phenomenon — an average of nearly 30 million viewers watched first-season episodes, and the first finale drew more than 50 million.

Ratings over the past few seasons have fallen to something in the neighborhood of 13-16 million viewers, but "Survivor" remains a hit. It's a top-20 show that dominates its Thursday-night time slot.

And we've learned from "Dancing With the Stars" that good casting results in much-improved ratings.

"American Idol" can, conceivably, remain a hit for years to come. Even though judge Simon Cowell — who is the only one the show worth watching at all at this point in the ninth season — won't be back for Season 10.

HE'S RIGHT, BUT former "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe isn't exactly tactful.

The executive producer/director/judge of "So You Think You Can Dance" has been sending out tweets about upcoming changes on that show this season. (It returns on Thursday, May 27.)

Among the updates from Lythgoe was the annoucement that Mary Murphy won't be one of the regular judges this season.

(He'll be joined by Adam Shankman and Mia Michaels.)

"Mary is still on the show but don't make the same mistake as 'Idol' this season," Lythgoe tweeted. "The show should be about the young talent not the judges."

And, in interviews, he has suggested that the entire "Idol" judging panel should be replaced. That Kara DioGuardi, Ellen DeGeneres and Randy Jackson should follow Cowell out the door.

He's absolutely right. But it does sort of have the feel of kicking his old friends while they're down.

And, given that the most recent season of "So You Think You Can Dance" was not exactly a big ratings success, Lythgoe might be better served worried about that show rather than "Idol."

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com