Hollywood Reporter: How American Idol was reborn for a new era

A few months ago, Lisa and I were chatting about American Idol and whether it could genuinely survive the loss of Simon Cowell. She said, in her venerable “reality TV comentator” voice, that she thought Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were really only being brought on board to give the show a last hurrah. It wouldn’t last beyond Season 10, especially with Cowell’s X Factor nipping at its heels.

But that’s not what happened, is it?

After losing Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres and dropping Kara DioGuardi, the brains behind Idol managed to attract Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and diva Jennifer Lopez. Coupled with a more nurturing approach to their auditionees, a funny thing started to happen. American Idol started gaining viewers.

This week saw Idol’s final three go head to head. Fox Research tweeted out the following stats showing the viewing figures up 12% on last year.

#IDOL up +12% vs last year’s Top 3 Results show in viewers (21.2m vs. 19.0m) and +2% in A18-49 (6.2/19 vs. 6.1/17)

Ultimately, rather than Cowell’s departure killing the show, he’s inadvertently managed to reinvigorate it. And though he’s got a few firm friends on the production team of American Idol, they know that they need to remind the global audience that Idol is back on top form. And to that end, The Hollywood Reporter is running a fantastic feature where the main players behind this season of Idol talk about how they prepared for their most challenging season ever

They’ve got Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest talking about the changes. Producers Nigel Lythgoe, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller and Mike Darnell talk about their anxieties in reinventing American Idol.

Like the rest of us, the producers initially tried to envision a clone of Simon Cowell – trying to define his ‘essence’ so that they could replace him smoothly. However, Cecile Frot-Coutaz explains that this was never going to work:

I got really paralyzed because I was thinking of it as replacing him. You start making lists, like, “OK, what are his attributes? What makes Cowell work?” And you realize that you can’t find that person because it doesn’t exist. So I was stuck and thought, “This is mission impossible.” Then sometime in June, I realized that was the wrong approach. We have to find a group of people who will be credible, have good chemistry and be entertaining.

The seven-page feature also talks about the hiring process, how Kara DioGuardi was the first person to suggest Tyler as a judge. Seacrest talks about how he held a dinner with just himself, Randy, Steven and Jennifer to test the chemistry of the new team. Simon Fuller talks about how people’s preconceptions about Jennifer and Steven have been challanged as the public get to know them in a new light through the show.

I could go on at length, but you should read the whole feature. If you’re one of those people like me – who loves to see the production process at work behind a show as big as American Idol – then this article is essential reading.

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