Esquire Malaysia, August 2015
Too Much Of A Good Thing
Could the end of American Idol be the end of an era in more ways than one?
By Sophia Goh
The people have voted with their television remotes. After 14 years of mostly ups followed by a string of downs, American Idol announced that their next season, scheduled to premiere in January 2016, will be its last. Thank god for that. As someone who was once a massive fan, the past few seasons have been painful to observe, as ratings nosedived, and then settled into lacklustre, unfamiliar territory, far removed from its glory days when it owned the reality TV segment. Over in the US, Season 14’s finale episode pulled in just 8.1 million viewers. Compare that number with the show’s highest rated finale in Season Two, which pulled in 38.1 million viewers, and I think we can all agree that the writing was on the wall.
Like many others, I pointed to The Voice as being partly to blame for American Idol’s downfall. But then, in May this year, The Voice registered its lowest rating ever for a season finale, and I began to wonder if that wasn’t entirely due to the fact that Adam Levine and Blake Shelton’s bromance hijinks were starting to get a bit stale.
Could it be that, as a TV viewing collective, we have simply tired of the song-and-dance that is the music competition series? Fourteen years of American Idol is a lot, and the decision to air not one, but two seasons of The Voice per year, in addition to all the other shows of similar ilk such as America’s Got Talent and the short-lived X Factor, certainly didn’t help the cause. In fact, let’s also talk about reality television as a whole.
Given how easy it is nowadays to broadcast and share content across half a dozen platforms at any given time, are our social media timelines all that different from reality TV? Do we really need to, say, keep up with the Kardashians on the small screen when you can follow everything Kim does on an even smaller one? Scrolling through the Instagram feeds of your favourite guilty pleasures while watching Empire on the telly: now that’s a win-win.
I’m not saying reality TV is dead, but maybe we need to start doing a different kind of reality TV. Instead of the same ol’ backstabbing, faux glamour shenanigans we have all come to recognise as the hallmarks of reality television, how about we make reality TV that has a real story to tell? Like Sweatshop, where three Norwegian fashion bloggers spent a month in Cambodia experiencing firsthand the life of a sweatshop worker. Or even Caitlyn Jenner’s docu-series that details her transition to a gender identity.
American Idol‘s demise certainly mark the end of an era, and bosses have said that the ultimate season will be a “celebratory” event that pays tribute to the show’s glittering history of contestants, winners and fans. I’m all for that, but I’m also all for starting a new era of reality TV, one with actual stories on reality, and fewer music competition type shows. Please.