Within the explosive Hollywood Reporter story that Fox and American Idol producers, in a panic about the sinking ratings, tried to replace Mariah Carey with Jennifer Lopez midseason, Fox issued a strong denial: "This is just another ridiculous Idol judge rumor, likely started by talks of Jennifer performing on the finale."
A network spokeswoman reiterated that denial again Wednesday.
The story in The Hollywood Reporter asserted that the Idol braintrust wanted Lopez back, but Carey then "responded with a threat of litigation." And that the main source of consternation is the strength NBC's The Voice, which has two new judges of its own, Shakira and Usher.
So how concerned should Fox be? Idol was always going to fade into death someday — are we there yet, after 12 seasons?
A few bullet points:
— For the full season, meaning including the fall installment of The Voice, too, The Voice does outrate Idol in the crucial younger demographics: 18 to 49, 18 to 34, and (perhaps obviously) women 18 to 34. Teens too.
— Earlier this season, Idol hit a series low of 2.8 in the 18 to 49 demo; The Voice hit a 5.2 rating a few weeks later. The Voice, which premiered in March, is still in its highest rated phase — you can bet on it going down, as Idol always does, once the competition gets going.
— Idol still gets more viewers in total than The Voice, but that gap has narrowed from last spring and the previous one, when The Voice first premiered. Idol on Wednesday: 15.5 million, Idol on Thursday: 15 million. The Voice on Monday: 14.2 million. The Voice 13.4 million.
— The median age of The Voice is 45.5 for Monday shows, and 46.8 for its Tuesday shows; Idol, on the other hand, is 49.4 for Wednesday's performance shows and 49.7 for the Thursday results shows. That's a pretty small difference. But it is not good for Fox that the Idol audience is now edging north of the 18 to 49 demographic; the halo effect of Idol at its height was the exposure it could offer other shows on the network.
— To demonstrate that further, the age groups Idol is roundly beating The Voice in are viewers 50 and older: Among women over 50, Idol draws an average of 4.75 million; The Voice brings in 3.85 million in that demographic.
— Idol had its first all-female Top 6, and will, therefore, have its first lady winner since Jordin Sparks in Season 6. This bullet point has nothing to do with ratings; I'm just excited it's finally happened!
The Reporter story says that the entire judging panel on Idol might be replaced next season. Fox would not elaborate on its blanket denial, so we'll see. The good news for The Voice is it's survived its own first round of judging musical chairs; the absence of Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo during this cycle seems to be fine with viewers.
And the relief for NBC is that on the strength of The Voice, the network's ratings free fall has stopped. Idol, even in its weakened state, has similarly pulled Fox out of its terrible ratings pit during the fall.
I imagine the lesson for both networks is that they need some strong new shows; if The Voice wants to see its future, it needs to look no further than over on Fox.