FOX will mark the end of an era in 2016 with the 15th — and last — season of “American Idol.”
The network announced the move Monday (May 11), rather deep in the release touting its 2015-16 schedule. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban will return for the final season, which FOX is billing as “a season-long celebratory event” that will feature lots of looks back at previous years.
“Idol” has been on a downward ratings curve for the past four seasons, but prior to that it sustained a remarkable run of eight consecutive seasons (2004-11) where one of its two weekly episodes was the most-watched show on TV. Its pop-culture footprint is equally huge, as more than once it fulfilled its promise of minting a music superstar.
“It was not an easy decision,” FOX chairman and CEO Gary Newman told reporters on a conference call Monday (May 11). “‘American Idol’ has been such a vital part of FOX during its run. We spent a lot of time talking with the producers about the future of ‘American Idol,’ and collectively we all arrived at the conclusion that it was time to bring the show ton an end.”
“American Idol,” a version of the British series “Pop Idol,” premiered in the summer of 2002. It became a word-of-mouth hit, with the season finale more than doubling the audience of its premiere. Kelly Clarkson was the inaugural winner and has gone on to a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling career.
The show exploded in Season 2, with the final showdown between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken resulting in a series-high 38 million viewers for the finale. The following year began the show’s run at No. 1 in the Nielsens.
Carrie Underwood and Clarkson have had the longest-running careers of any “Idol” winners, but others ranging from Jordin Sparks to Scotty McCreery have also scored some successes. The list of accomplished non-winners — Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Katharine McPhee and others — is equally impressive.
The show also made stars out of host Ryan Seacrest and judge Simon Cowell, whose frank and often hilarious critiques made him loved and hated in equal measure. The show also revived Paula Abdul’s career and made former Journey sideman Randy Jackson a household name.
As “Idol” became the juggernaut it was, other networks bent their schedules to avoid the show’s path while also trying to ape its success with talent competitions of their own. None have equaled “Idol” at its peak, but in the past couple seasons NBC’s “The Voice” has taken over as the top-rated singing competition on TV.
Season 15 of “Idol” is scheduled to premiere in January 2016. Newman’s fellow chairman and CEO, Dana Walden, says that while nothing is nailed down yet, they’ve been discussing “anything you can imagine” — including return appearances for the likes of Cowell and Abdul — for the final run.