So participants weren’t even able to shoot pics of their own smiles and post them on Twitter when Idol got its first Primetime Emmy Award nomination as Outstanding Reality Competition Program in 2003, leading to seven more consecutive noms in the top category.
Idol was TV’s top-rated show for eight years, averaging 30 million viewers per installment. It was the Jurassic World of TV. One staggering statistic: For its 2006 fifth-season premiere with judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, more that 55 million viewers tuned in to watch at least some portion of the two-hour songfest (that year’s winner and runner-up: Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee).
In 2010, at the same time the show’s juggernaut ratings began to drop, the seminal reality competition also dropped out of the series category as an Emmy nominee (though host Ryan Seacrest managed to snag noms for Outstanding Reality or Reality-Competition Host in 2011, 2012 and 2013).
Plummeting ratings led to May’s announcement that 2016 would be the last season for Idol. But could bad news for Idol be good news at Emmy nomination time? Will nostalgia for the seminal talent competition lead to Emmy love despite the ratings slide?
“Everyone in town wishes they had a crystal ball to learn with the Academy will or won’t do,” host Seacrest tells Deadline. “American Idol has had an amazing run, and we’re grateful to have received many Emmy nominations over the years in recognition of the outstanding talent and execution involved in the show.”
An Academy of Television Arts and Sciences spokesman says the Academy keeps no statistics on how many series have netted top-category nominations or wins after announcing the end. But clearly it’s not unheard of to try to take advantage of a big sendoff at Emmy time. Witness Mad Men’s Emmy campaign following this year’s series finale: “Consider the End of an Era.” That critical hit won its last series Emmy in 2011. While Mad Men is over and Idol still has one season left to go, it’s possible that publicity surrounding the announcement of a final season could spur Emmy voters to revisit the series either this year or the next.
Says Idol executive producer Trish Kinane (also EP of NBC’s America’s Got Talent as president of Entertainment Programming for FremantleMedia North America): “Idol has been nominated for many Emmys over the years, in well-deserved categories. It has not won the best show (reality competition) category, and it really deserves to.”
Adds Kinane: “It’s not really just about this being its last season. It’s really innovative and well produced and leapt onto the technology of giving the audience a vote. It’s produced Oscar winners and Grammy winners and artists with really significant and lasting careers. … It’s a high-quality, innovative show, and it kick-started the whole talent show genre.”
In a sense, Idol engineered its own demise. The success of Idol surely helped inspire the creation of its biggest competitor, NBC’s The Voice. And the expanding reality-competition genre has brought numerous new TV talent competitions to the airwaves (The X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice and America’s Got Talent to name a few). The decade-plus also has introduced a host of new social media platforms the public can use to vote for their favorites to axe or save on most competition shows.
And who can imagine a singer/dancer/juggler on virtually any current TV talent competition awaiting his or her fate without standing Idol style on a darkened stage facing disorienting klieg lights, ominous music and a pounding background heartbeat strong enough to explode an EKG?
Says Keith Urban, who joined the judging panel in 2012: “Idol created an entire broadcast genre. There isn’t a competition show that hasn’t borrowed something from Idol. It’s kind of like saying what artist hasn’t ‘borrowed’ something from the Beatles or The Stones or Johnny Cash.”
Along with stiff competition from amateur belters on The Voice, critics have faulted Idol in recent years failing to launch new, high-profile recording and touring careers as it had for Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert and many others. And Kinane is the first to admit that squabbling judges have not raised the show’s reputation. She says Season 12’s highly publicized spat between judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey got things “a bit off balance.”
Urban believes he was brought on board in 2012 to add a country singer to the judges bench. Despite declining ratings and the gossipy interest in judges that sometimes seemed to overshadow the contestants, Urban says he was willing to join the show because, “I’ve always loved the artist’s process. … Sitting a few feet away from that each week is exactly why I jumped at the chance when I was asked to be a part of the show.”
When he first came on board, Urban shared the judge’s bench with Minaj, Carey and Randy Jackson. Now he teams up with Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.
Executive producer Kinane says that in the years since Idol premiered she has seen one big change on Idol as well as other reality talent competitions: Lless time spent on bad acts. “With Idol it has been very deliberate not to put so many bad singers before the judges,” Kinane says. The hunt is on for the next real singing talent, not another novelty act like William Hung, noted for his off-key rendition of the Ricky Martin hit “She Bangs” during Season 3.
Says Seacrest, “American Idol still remains one of the most watched shows on television, and we’re all very proud of that.” Looking back as only remaining original cast member, the host adds: “Overall, I think broadcast network television audience attrition has happened because people have so many choices. There’s a lot of content in the marketplace on many different platforms that people can watch anytime, anyplace they want.”
And with or without an Emmy, “How do you complain about anything when you’re headed into the 15th season?” Seacrest rationalizes. “It’s been a remarkable journey, and I’m grateful — even for those comments in the early days about my highlights.”