American Idol is starting over.
A day after Fox announced that judge Steven Tyler won't return next season, Jennifer Lopez revealed that she too is bailing, setting up a near-total reset of TV's top talent show. It's not even clear that Randy Jackson will return, potentially leaving host Ryan Seacrest as the lone consistent voice on the show, which suffered a steep 23% ratings drop last season.
Lopez told Seacrest on his radio show this morning that "I honestly feel the time has come to get back to do what I do," echoing the comments she made Thursday on NBC's Today. But she was more definitive this time, referring to her talks with the show in the past tense: "It wasn't about playing games or wanting more money or any of that. It was a business decision." Her representative confirmed to the Associated Press that she'll leave Idol after a two-year stint, but Fox declined comment.
There's a lot riding on Idol's future: The show has been key to the network's No. 1 ranking in recent years among the young-adult viewers many advertisers seek, but after 11 seasons it's beginning to show signs of wearing out. That has been hastened by the addition of new competitors including NBC's The Voice and Fox's own X Factor, featuring former Idol judge Simon Cowell as both judge and producer, which is adding younger talent Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to its own panel this fall.
Idol has been so profitable — and so critical to the network's top-rated status among young adults — that Chase Carey, chief operating officer at Fox parent News Corp., told Wall Street analysts recently that "we probably didn't do enough" to retool it last season, adding, "Our challenge for next year is to put some fresh energy in."
Now he'll get his chance, with at least two open slots on the panel, and names ranging from Mariah Carey, whom Jackson has managed, to Idol runner-up Adam Lambert floated as possible candidates.
Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold Story, says with its lineup of more "mature" judges, Idol needed a facelift to "reflect today's top 40" and reclaim younger viewers. Last season, Idol had a median age of 49, significantly older than The Voice, with an average of 43, and X Factor, at 46.
After a stable panel for its first eight seasons, producers have adopted a revolving-door format: Paula Abdul left in 2009 (and subsequently joined and left X Factor), while Ellen DeGeneres had a one-year stint and Kara DioGuardi lasted two years, before Tyler and Lopez came on board for the 2011 season.