“American Idol” Ratings Are Down, But Not Disastrous

American Idol’s new judging panel — with Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Randy Jackson — made its debut Wednesday night.

The Wednesday premiere of Season 12 of American Idol brought in 17.8 million viewers and a 6.0 in the 18-to-49 demographic. The singing competition is down almost 20% from last year’s first episode. Last year’s drop from the previous season was actually worse: Then, it shed 24% from the 2011 debut of the Steven Tyler/Jennifer Lopez panel.

Being down 19% is not fantastic news, of course, especially since Fox is in third place this season (as of January, ABC is now in fourth) among 18- to 49-year-olds. The network’s attempt to enliven X Factor in the fall with Britney Spears didn’t work, and she won’t be returning to the show.

But given the glut of singing competitions — all inspired by Idol, of course — the show could have really dropped through the floor. That did not happen with the premiere. Until The Voice begins again in late March, Idol has this now-crowded field to itself. (Compared with The Voice’s premiere in September, Wednesday’s Idol’s did 43% better in 18 to 49.)

It’s been a long road for Idol. The show achieved its highest premiere ratings in 2007, during the Simon Cowell/Paula Abdul years, when it brought in 37.4 million viewers. Can you imagine? Things have changed so much in six years — no entertainment series will ever have that many viewers again. As it stands now, Idol won’t even be the most-watched show this week: CBS’ NCIS, the most popular series on television, is on a tear, and 22.9 million viewers watched it on Tuesday. (Though Idol has crushed it among adults under 50, which advertisers seek the most.)

As for how the new judging panel — Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Randy Jackson — did on Wednesday, it has not yet gelled as a group. These are early days yet, and fans of Carey and Minaj both had some things to cheer about: Minaj is poised to dominate the actual judging, it seems. We will see! Lauren Yapalater compiled its 20 best moments, which basically alternate between Nicki and Mariah. Assert yourself, Keith Urban.

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