“American Idol” is practicing addition and subtraction in its 14th season.
Longtime judge, short-time mentor Randy Jackson is gone. Music executive Scott Borchetta, whose impressive credentials include acting as mentor to Taylor Swift, will play that role for contestants and the winner will be signed to Borchetta’s Big Machine Records.
There’s another shake up ahead for the series, which returns with an hour-long episode Wednesday (8 p.m. EST) and a two-hour episode Thursday (8 p.m. EST): Starting with the live shows in mid-March, “American Idol” will cut back to a two-hour show once a week, on Wednesday.
It’s a logical move given the aging show’s ratings decline in an increasingly competitive entertainment landscape, said analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. “American Idol” dipped last season to an all-time low weekly average of 10.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen company figures.
That’s about a third of the 30.2 million the singing contest hit at its peak in 2006, when Taylor Hicks claimed the title over runner-up Katharine McPhee. But “Idol” remains a relatively strong performer for Fox, one the network seeks to protect, Adgate said.
“Whatever audience erosion will happen this year will be mitigated by limiting the show to one night,” he said.
It’s only fair to viewers to reduce the demand on their time, said executive producer Trish Kinane, given that the once-unique “American Idol” is now part of a flood of talent shows, including NBC’s popular “The Voice.”
“To commit to three hours a week for our or any other of the shows is too much, even if you adore these (talent) shows,” she said.
The compressed schedule will allow for a better program, one that combines performances with the results of viewer voting for the previous week’s competition, Kinane said.
All the contestants will be on hand for the live episodes, “dressed, ready and with their songs rehearsed,” only to find out who is being eliminated, according to Kinane. The results won’t be announced at the beginning of the show, but in a “more dramatic way,” she said, holding details back for now.
The show will retain a familiar look. Ryan Seacrest, the sole original cast member, is returning as host, and Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban will be back for their second year together as judges.
All that’s needed now is the kind of compelling contestants and future stars that “American Idol” has discovered in the past, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson.
“If I have a criticism of the show for us last year, it is that we haven’t found, in the last two years, a group of kids who have captured the imagination of the public,” Peter Rice, chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, told a news conference after the 2014 season’s conclusion.
That bar will be met, Kinane said, with outstanding performers discovered in auditions held in Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans; San Francisco; and elsewhere. She offered hints about one contestant, whom she described “as a girl who had never sung in public before the first audition” but ended up in the top 24.
“She’s really good, but whether she’ll win or not is unsure because she’s quite raw. Can her raw talent develop through the process” is the question, Kinane said.
As is the performance of “American Idol” itself.