American Idol was based on the British show Pop Idol created by Simon Fuller, which was in turn inspired by the New Zealand television singing competition Popstars. Television producer Nigel Lythgoe saw a version in Australia and helped bring it over to Britain. Fuller was inspired by the idea from Popstars of employing a panel of judges to select singers in audition. He then added other elements, including telephone voting by the viewing public (which at the time was already in use in shows, such as the Eurovision Song Contest), the drama of backstories, and real-life soap opera unfolding in real time. Pop Idol debuted in Britain in 2001 with Lythgoe as showrunner—the executive producer and production leader—and Simon Cowell as one of the judges, and was successful with the viewing public.
In 2001, Fuller, Cowell, and TV producer Simon Jones attempted to sell the Pop Idol format to the United States, but the idea was initially met with poor responses from all the television networks including Fox. However, Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox's parent company, was later persuaded to buy the series by his daughter, Elisabeth, who had seen the British show. Although Fox's executives wanted to change the format, Murdoch insisted that it should remain the same as the British one. One change was nevertheless made due to the presence of multiple time zones in the United States that made it impractical for the country to vote in the same time period, an additional half-hour results show was therefore added the day following the performance show. The show was renamed American Idol: The Search for a Superstar and debuted in the summer of 2002. Cowell was initially offered the job of showrunner, but turned down the offer; Lythgoe then took over that position. Much to the surprise of Cowell and Fox, it became one of the biggest shows of the summer. With its successful launch in the summer, the show was then moved to January and expanded. The show grew into a phenomenon largely due to its personal engagement with the contestants by prompting the viewers to vote, and the presence of the acid-tongued Cowell as a judge. By 2004, it had become the most-watched show on U.S. television, a position it then held for seven consecutive seasons.
Early reviews were mixed in their assessment. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly considered that "As TV, American Idol is crazily entertaining; as music, it's dust-mote inconsequential". Others, however, thought that "the most striking aspect of the series was the genuine talent it revealed". It was also described as a "sadistic musical bake-off", and "a romp in humiliation". Other aspects of the show have attracted criticisms. The product placement in the show in particular was noted, and some critics were harsh about what they perceived as its blatant commercial calculations – Karla Peterson of The San Diego Union-Tribune charged that American Idol is "a conniving multimedia monster" that has "absorbed the sin of our debauched culture and spit them out in a lump of reconstituted evil". The decision to send the first season winner to sing the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2002 was also poorly received by many. Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post noted sarcastically that "The terrorists have won" and, with a sideswipe at the show's commercialism and voting process, that the decision as to who "gets to turn this important site into just another cog in the 'Great American Idol Marketing Mandala' is in the hands of the millions of girls who have made American Idol a hit. Them and a handful of phone-redialer geeks who have been clocking up to 10,000 calls each week for their contestant of choice (but who, according to Fox, are in absolutely no way skewing the outcome)."
The loss of viewers continued into the seventh season. The premiere was down 11% among total viewers, and the results show in which Kristy Lee Cook was eliminated delivered its lowest-rated Wednesday show among the 18–34 demo since the first season in 2002. However, the ratings rebounded for the seventh-season finale with the excitement over the battle of the Davids, and improved over the sixth season as the series' third most watched finale. The strong finish of season seven also helped Fox become the most watched TV network in the country for the first time since its inception, a first ever in American television history for a non-Big Three major broadcast network. Overall ratings for the season were down 10% from the sixth season, which is in line with the fall in viewership across all networks due in part to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
American Idol premiered in June 2002 and became the surprise summer hit show of 2002. The first show drew 9.9 million viewers, giving Fox the best viewing figure for the 8.30 pm spot in over a year. The audience steadily grew, and by finale night, the audience had averaged 23 million, with more than 40 million watching some part of that show. That episode was placed third amongst all age groups, but more importantly it led in the 18–49 demographic, the age group most valued by advertisers.
The first season of American Idol debuted as a summer replacement show in June 2002 on the Fox network. It was co-hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman.
American Idol is an American singing competition television series created by Simon Fuller, produced by Fremantle North America and 19 Entertainment, and distributed by Fremantle North America. It initially aired on Fox from June 11, 2002, to April 7, 2016, for 15 seasons. It was on hiatus for two years until March 11, 2018, when a revival of the series began airing on ABC.
The final showdown was between Justin Guarini, one of the early favorites, and Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson was not initially thought of as a contender, but impressed the judges with some good performances in the final rounds, such as her performance of Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman", and Betty Hutton's "Stuff Like That There", and eventually won the crown on September 4, 2002.
In what was to become a tradition, Clarkson performed the coronation song during the finale, and released the song immediately after the season ended. The single, "A Moment Like This", went on to break a 38-year-old record held by The Beatles for the biggest leap to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Guarini did not release any song immediately after the show and remains the only runner-up not to do so. Both Clarkson and Guarini made a musical film, From Justin to Kelly, which was released in 2003 but was widely panned. Clarkson has since become one of the most successful Idol contestants internationally, with worldwide album sales of more than 23 million.
The loss of viewers continued into the twelfth season, which saw the show hitting a number of series low in the 18–49 demo. The finale had 7.2 million fewer viewers than the previous season, and saw a drop of 44% in the 18–49 demo. The season viewers averaged at 13.3 million, a drop of 24% from the previous season. The thirteenth season suffered a huge decline in the 18–49 demographic, a drop of 28% from the twelfth season, and American Idol lost its Top 10 position in the Nielsen ratings by the end of the 2013–14 television season for the first time since its entry to the rankings in 2003 as a result, and never regained its Top 10 position by the series' end in 2016.
The two finalists in 2011 were Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery, both teenage country singers. McCreery won the competition on May 25, being the youngest male winner and the fourth male in a row to win American Idol. McCreery released his first single, "I Love You This Big", as his coronation song, and Alaina released "Like My Mother Does". McCreery's debut album, Clear as Day, became the first debut album by an Idol winner to reach No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 since Ruben Studdard's Soulful in 2003, and he became the youngest male artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Following the success of the first season, the second season was moved up to air in January 2003. The number of episodes increased, as did the show's budget and the charge for commercial spots. Dunkleman left the show, leaving Seacrest as the lone host. Kristin Adams was a correspondent for this season.
The third season premiered on January 19, 2004. One of the most talked-about contestants during the audition process was William Hung whose off-key rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" received widespread attention. His exposure on Idol landed him a record deal and surprisingly he became the third best-selling singer from that season.
19 Recordings, a recording label owned by 19 Entertainment, currently hold the rights to phonographic material recorded by all the contestants. 19 originally partnered with Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) to promote and distribute the recordings through its labels RCA Records, Arista Records, J Records, Jive Records. In 2005–2007, BMG partnered with Sony Music Entertainment to form a joint venture known as Sony BMG Music Entertainment. From 2008 to 2010, Sony Music handled the distribution following their acquisition of BMG. Sony Music was partnered with American Idol and distribute its music, and In 2010, Sony was replaced by as the music label for American Idol by UMG's Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records.
American Idol was nominated for the Emmy's Outstanding Reality Competition Program for nine years but never won. Director Bruce Gower won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing For A Variety, Music Or Comedy Series in 2009, and the show won a Creative Arts Emmys each in 2007 and 2008, three in 2009, and two in 2011, as well as a Governor's Award in 2007 for its Idol Gives Back edition. It won the People's Choice Award, which honors the popular culture of the previous year as voted by the public, for favorite competition/reality show in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012. It won the first Critics' Choice Television Award in 2011 for Best Reality Competition.
The fourth season premiered on January 18, 2005; this was the first season of the series to be aired in high definition, although the finale of the third season was also aired in high definition. The number of those attending the auditions by now had increased to over 100,000 from the 10,000 of the first season. The age limit was raised to 28 in this season, and among those who benefited from this new rule were Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice, the two rockers of the show.
In May 2005, Carrie Underwood was announced the winner, with Bice the runner-up. Both Underwood and Bice released the coronation song "Inside Your Heaven", with Underwood's version of the song making her the first country artist ever to debut at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As of 2015, Underwood has become the most successful Idol contestant in the U.S., selling 16 million albums in the country, while selling a total of 65 million records worldwide.
Some in the entertainment industry were critical of the star-making aspect of the show. Usher, a mentor on the show, bemoaning the loss of the "true art form of music", thought that shows like American Idol made it seem "so easy that everyone can do it, and that it can happen overnight", and that "television is a lie". Musician Michael Feinstein, while acknowledging that the show had uncovered promising performers, said that American Idol "isn't really about music. It's about all the bad aspects of the music business – the arrogance of commerce, this sense of 'I know what will make this person a star; artists themselves don't know.' " That American Idol is seen to be a fast track to success for its contestants has been a cause of resentment for some in the industry. LeAnn Rimes, commenting on Carrie Underwood winning Best Female Artist in Country Music Awards over Faith Hill in 2006, said that "Carrie has not paid her dues long enough to fully deserve that award". It is a common theme that has been echoed by many others. Elton John, who had appeared as a mentor in the show but turned down an offer to be a judge on American Idol, commenting on talent shows in general, said that "there have been some good acts but the only way to sustain a career is to pay your dues in small clubs". American Idol revolutionized American pop culture and the pop idol process and has provided an opportunity for many to bypass the small club scene and allow a much larger audience to participate in and select the next potential chart topping performer.
The fifth season began on January 17, 2006. It remains the highest-rated season in the show's run so far. Two of the more prominent contestants during the Hollywood round were the Brittenum twins who were later disqualified for identity theft.
On May 30, 2006, Taylor Hicks was named American Idol, with Katharine McPhee the runner-up. "Do I Make You Proud" was released as Hicks' first single and McPhee's was "My Destiny".
Starting September 30, 2006, this season was repackaged as "American Idol Rewind" and syndicated directly to stations in the U.S.
Various American Idol alumni had success on various record charts around the world; in the U.S. they had achieved 345 number ones on the Billboard charts in its first 10 years, and 458 by its last year of broadcast in 2016, with 100 achieved by Kelly Clarkson alone. According to Fred Bronson, author of books on the Billboard charts, no other entity has ever created as many hit-making artists and best-selling albums and singles. In 2007, American Idol alums accounted for 2.1% of all music sales. Its alumni have a massive impact on radio; in 2007, American Idol had become "a dominant force in radio" according to the president of the research company Mediabase which monitors radio stations Rich Meyer. By 2010, four winners each had more than a million radio spins, with Kelly Clarkson leading the field with over four million spins.
The sixth season began on Tuesday, January 16, 2007. The premiere drew a massive audience of 37.3 million viewers, peaking in the last half hour with more than 41 million viewers.
This season also saw the launch of the American Idol Songwriter contest which allows fans to vote for the "coronation song". Thousands of recordings of original songs were submitted by songwriters, and 20 entries selected for the public vote. The winning song, "This Is My Now", was performed by both finalists during the finale and released by Sparks on May 24, 2007.
The seventh season premiered on January 15, 2008, for a two-day, four-hour premiere. The media focused on the professional status of the seventh season contestants, the so-called 'ringers', many of whom, including Kristy Lee Cook, Brooke White, Michael Johns, and in particular Carly Smithson, had prior recording contracts. Contestant David Hernandez also attracted some attention due to his past employment as a stripper.
For the finals, American Idol debuted a new state-of-the-art set and stage on March 11, 2008, along with a new on-air look. David Cook's performance of "Billie Jean" on top-ten night was lauded by the judges, but provoked controversy when they apparently mistook the Chris Cornell arrangement to be David Cook's own even though the performance was introduced as Cornell's version. Cornell himself said he was 'flattered' and praised David Cook's performance. David Cook was taken to the hospital after the top-nine performance show due to heart palpitations and high blood pressure.
Idol Gives Back returned on April 9, 2008, and raised $64 million for charity.
The finalists were Cook and Archuleta. David Cook was announced the winner on May 21, 2008, the first rocker to win the show. Both Cook and Archuleta had some success as recording artists with both selling over a million albums in the U.S.
The American Idol Songwriter contest was also held this season. From ten of the most popular submissions, each of the final two contestants chose a song to perform, although neither of their selections was used as the "coronation song". The winning song, "The Time of My Life", was recorded by David Cook and released on May 22, 2008.
The show itself was popular in the Southern United States, with households in the Southeastern United States 10% more likely to watch American Idol during the eighth season in 2009, and those in the East Central region, such as Kentucky, were 16 percent more likely to tune into the series. Data from Nielsen SoundScan, a music-sales tracking service, showed that of the 47 million CDs sold by Idol contestants through January 2010, 85 percent were by contestants with ties to the American South.
The eighth season premiered on January 13, 2009. Mike Darnell, the president of alternative programming for Fox, stated that the season would focus more on the contestants' personal life.
On February 14, 2009, The Walt Disney Company debuted "The American Idol Experience" at its Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. In this live production, co-produced by 19 Entertainment, park guests chose from a list of songs and auditioned privately for Disney cast members. Those selected then performed on a stage in a 1000-seat theater replicating the Idol set. Three judges, whose mannerisms and style mimicked those of the real Idol judges, critiqued the performances. Audience members then voted for their favorite performer. There were several preliminary-round shows during the day that culminated in a "finals" show in the evening where one of the winners of the previous rounds that day was selected as the overall winner. The winner of the finals show received a "Dream Ticket" that granted them front-of-the-line privileges at any future American Idol audition. The attraction closed on August 30, 2014.
The ninth season premiered on January 12, 2010. The upheaval at the judging panel continued. Ellen DeGeneres joined as a judge to replace Paula Abdul at the start of Hollywood Week.
Michael Lynche was the lowest vote getter at top nine and was given the Judges' Save. The next week Katie Stevens and Andrew Garcia were eliminated. That week, Adam Lambert was invited back to be a mentor, the first Idol alum to do so. Idol Gives Back returned this season on April 21, 2010, and raised $45 million.
In the eighth season, Latin Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter and record producer Kara DioGuardi was added as a fourth judge. She stayed for two seasons and left the show before the tenth season. Paula Abdul left the show before the ninth season after failing to agree to terms with the show producers. Emmy Award-winning talk show host Ellen DeGeneres replaced Paula Abdul for that season, but left after just one season. On May 26, 2010, Simon Cowell left the show to pursue introducing the American version of his show The X Factor for 2011.
The tenth season premiered on January 19, 2011. Many changes were introduced this season, from the format to the personnel of the show. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined Randy Jackson as judges following the departures of Simon Cowell (who left to launch the American version of The X Factor), Kara DioGuardi (whose contract was not renewed) and Ellen DeGeneres, while Nigel Lythgoe returned as executive producer. Jimmy Iovine, chairman of the Interscope Geffen A&M label group, the new partner of American Idol, acted as the in-house mentor in place of weekly guest mentors, although in later episodes special guest mentors such as Beyoncé, will.i.am and Lady Gaga were brought in.
Pia Toscano, one of the presumed favorites to advance far in the season, was unexpectedly eliminated on April 7, 2011, finishing in ninth place. Her elimination drew criticisms from some former Idol contestants, as well as actor Tom Hanks.
However, after a few years of sharp declining ratings starting in 2012, with rating falls of over 20% each season, the fifteenth season would be its last, ending its run in April 2016. In May 2017, ABC acquired the rights to the series and the program returned for the 2017–18 television season. ABC announced in May 2019 that American Idol would return for its eighteenth season.
Throughout the series, twelve of the seventeen Idol winners, including its first five, had come from the Southern United States. A large number of other finalists during the series' run have also hailed from the American South, including Clay Aiken, Kellie Pickler, and Chris Daughtry, who are all from North Carolina. In 2012, an analysis of the 131 contestants who have appeared in the finals of all seasons of the show up to that point found that 48% have some connection to the Southern United States.
The eleventh season premiered on January 18, 2012. One more finalist would join the Top 24 making it the Top 25, which was later revealed to be Jermaine Jones. However, on March 14, Jones was disqualified in 12th place for concealing arrests and outstanding warrants. Jones denied the accusation that he concealed his arrests.
In 2013, TV Guide ranked the series No. 48 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time.
In Latin America, the show is broadcast and subtitled by Sony Entertainment Television. In Southeast Asia, it is broadcast by Sony Channel every Monday and Tuesday nine or ten hours after since its revival. In Philippines, it is aired every Thursday and Friday nine or ten hours after its United States telecast; from 2004 to 2007 on ABC 5; 2008–11 on QTV, then GMA News TV; and 2012–16, 2018–19 on ETC. In Australia, it aired a few hours after the U.S. telecast. It was aired on Network Ten from 2002 to 2008 and then again in 2013. Between 2008 and 2012 it aired on Fox8 and the thirteenth and fourteenth seasons (2014–15) it aired on digital channel, Eleven, a sister channel to Network Ten. Its final season (2016) aired on Fox8 hours after the original U.S. broadcast. The show enjoyed a lot of popularity in Australia throughout the 2000s before declining in the ratings. In the United Kingdom, episodes were aired one day after the U.S. broadcast on digital channel ITV2. In the twelfth season, the episodes aired on 5*. It was also aired in Ireland on TV3 two days after the telecast. In Brazil and Israel, the show airs two days after its original broadcast, and broadcast live during the season finale. In the instances where the airing is delayed, the shows may sometimes be combined into one episode to summarize the results. In Italy, the twelfth season was broadcast by La3. In Singapore, The show was broadcast on Mediacorp Channel 5 for the ninth and tenth seasons.
The twelfth season premiered on January 16, 2013. Judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler left the show after two seasons. This season's judging panel consisted of Randy Jackson, along with Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. This was the first season since the ninth season to have four judges on the panel. The pre-season buzz and the early episodes of the show were dominated by the feud between the judges Minaj and Carey after a video of their dispute was leaked to TMZ.
The thirteenth season premiered on January 15, 2014. Randy Jackson and Keith Urban returned, though Jackson moved from the judging panel to the role of in-mentor. Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj left the panel after one season. Former judge Jennifer Lopez and former mentor Harry Connick, Jr. joined Urban on the panel. Also, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were replaced as executive producers by Per Blankens, Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Pragger. Bill DeRonde replaced Warwick as a director of the audition episodes, while Louis J. Horvitz replaced Gregg Gelfand as a director of the show.
American Idol is broadcast to over 100 nations worldwide. In most nations these are not live broadcasts and may be tape delayed by several days or weeks, except for other season finales that are aired live in several countries simulcast with the U.S. broadcast on Fox (2002–2016) and ABC (since 2018). In Canada, the first thirteen seasons of American Idol were aired live countrywide by CTV and/or CTV Two, in simulcast with Fox. CTV dropped Idol after its thirteenth season and in August 2014, Yes TV announced that it had picked up Canadian rights to American Idol beginning in its 2015 season. In 2017, it was announced the show would return to CTV Two for its sixteenth season.
The fourteenth season premiered on January 7, 2015. Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. returned for their respective fourth, third and second seasons as judges. Eighth season runner-up Adam Lambert filled in for Urban during the New York City auditions. Randy Jackson did not return as the in-house mentor for this season. Scott Borchetta replaced Jackson as the mentor.
Fox announced on May 11, 2015 that the fifteenth season would be the final season of American Idol; as such, the season was expected to have an additional focus on the program's alumni. Ryan Seacrest returned as host, with Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban, and Jennifer Lopez all returning as judges. The fifteenth season premiered on January 6, 2016. The season was shortened by four weeks compared to previous years. During the finale episode, President Barack Obama praised the millions of young people that voted for contestants and pitched that they vote in the upcoming election. The farewell season concluded on April 7, 2016. Seacrest signed off by saying: "And one more time—this is so tough—we say to you from Hollywood, goodnight America", and then he added, "for now."
The continuing decline influenced further changes for the fourteenth season, including the loss of Coca-Cola as the show's major sponsor, and a decision to only broadcast one, two-hour show per week during the top 12 rounds (with results from the previous week integrated into the performance show, rather than having a separate results show). On May 11, 2015, prior to the fourteenth-season finale, Fox announced that the fifteenth season of American Idol would be its last. Despite these changes, the show's ratings would decline more sharply. The fourteenth-season finale was the lowest-rated finale ever, with an average of only 8.03 million viewers watching the finale. The show's ratings, however, rebounded in its final season and ended its run in 2016 as Fox's first-ever program to conclude its run without dropping from the Nielsen Top 30 most-watched television shows in each of its seasons.
As one of the most successful shows on U.S. television history, American Idol has had a strong impact not just on television, but also in the wider world of entertainment. It helped create a number of highly successful recording artists, such as Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry and Carrie Underwood, as well as others of varying notability. The alumni of the show had received between them 54 Grammy nominations and 13 Grammy awards by the end of the show in 2016, with Carrie Underwood winning seven.
At the end of the show's run on Fox in 2016, Idol's contestants have sold more than 60 million albums in the US, resulting in more than 80 Platinum records and 95 Gold records. Its participants have generated more than 450 Billboard No. 1 hits and sold more than 260 million digital downloads.
In early 2017, Variety reported that Fremantle Media was in talks to revive the show for NBC or for its original network, Fox. A dispute between Fremantle and Core Media Group derailed these plans. In May 2017, ABC was making a bid to revive the program. ABC acquired the rights to the series, and American Idol returned for the 2017–18 television season.
Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie were the three judges and Ryan Seacrest returned as host. The sixteenth season premiered on March 11, 2018. The season was again shortened compared to the previous season to twelve weeks, with multiple elimination in the final rounds. Unlike previous seasons where only two finalists remained in the final episode, three finalists performed in the finale. On May 21, 2018 the season concluded with Maddie Poppe crowned the winner, beating Caleb Lee Hutchinson as runner-up and Gabby Barrett in third place. Her winning song was "Going, Going, Gone". Caleb Lee Hutchinson released "Johnny Cash Heart" as a single, while Gabby Barrett's song was "Rivers Deep".
ABC renewed the revival series for another season. Perry, Bryan and Richie returned as judges, while Seacrest returned as host. The seventeenth season premiered on March 3, 2019. For the finale, the show no longer features separate performance and result shows. On May 19, 2019 the season concluded with three finalists, with Madison VanDenburg eliminated in third place after performing two songs, and the final two performing their last song. For the first time, there were no separate performance and grand finale shows this season. Laine Hardy was crowned the winner and Alejandro Aranda runner-up. Hardy released a single, "Flame", immediately after the win, but Aranda did not. However, Aranda later released a song he performed in the finale, "Tonight", under the name Scarypoolparty on June 28, 2019.
The first season was co-hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman following the format of Pop Idol of using two presenters. Dunkleman quit thereafter, making Seacrest the sole emcee of the show starting with the second season. Dunkleman did, however, return in the initial series finale on Fox. Seacrest returned for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth seasons. On April 8, 2019, Bobby Bones subbed for Seacrest when he was out sick.
On May 13, 2019, the series was renewed for an eighteenth season and premiered on February 16, 2020. Ryan Seacrest returned as the host. For the first time, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, from the top 20 to the finale, the contestants performed in their own homes, while Ryan Seacrest hosted the show remotely in his own home in Los Angeles with the judges also in their respective homes. The season was also further truncated, with the top 5 performing in the finale. Each finalist also performed only two songs for the finale. Just Sam was crowned the winner, with Arthur Gunn finishing as the runner-up. "Rise Up", the song Just Sam performed for her audition and reprised on the finale, was released as her debut song.
On May 15, 2020, ABC renewed the series for a nineteenth season. In August, it was announced that Seacrest would be returning as host and that Perry, Bryan and Richie would again be judges. Later in October, it was announced that Bones will return as mentor. On November 10, they announced the season will premiere on February 14, 2021.