Some "American Idol" insights
Well, "American Idol" came back last night, and kicked butt in the local ratings, as usual. It averaged a 22.4 rating here and a 32% audience share. Channel 19's "American Idol" ratings last night equaled the combined ratings for network programming in Channels 5, 9, 12 and 64. However, Channel 19's rating was down slightly from the season premiere last year (24.3 rating/34% share).
How they do it?
Watching last night, again I was struck by what an editing marvel the show is -- which is the hallmark of any compelling reality show. "American Idol" producers took hours and hours of video from Minneapolis, and cut it down to two hours of every entertaining TV. (The same way "Survivor" editors take three boring days on an island and make 44 minutes of interesting TV, complete with dramatic story lines involving distinct characters.)
After talking to local "American Idol" contestants over the years, I've got a good hunch on how they assemble the show. Now this might be a big "Duh!" to some of you, but others may find it interesting. Here's my best guess how they make "American Idol" so entertaining...
The auditions were taped late last summer. I'm told that the judges weren't always there for the cattle call, like when 10,000 people showed up in Seattle, but then they show up later after producers have culled through the masses. Sometimes singers audition three or four times for producers before ever seeing Simon, Paula or Randy. This may explain why some of the awful singers who get through the initial process and sing for the judges are surprised to hear they're lousy. Just my theory. Anyway, the show is an editing marvel because of how they can keep track of the best moments, and how they can edit just the right judges reactions to an audition performance.
Watch the auditions for four weeks (through Feb. 7), and you'll realize that we don't see most of the people who are going to Hollywood. We see mostly bad singers, with a very good one every 20 minutes or so.
What I've learned is that part of the "Hollywood Round" shows (Feb. 13-14) were taped in November. So the judges and producers have seen all the hopefulls, and made up their minds who will make the 24 semi-finalists (12 guys, 12 women). The singers haven't been told who the 24 semi-finalists are, and won't be told until the annoucement is revealed on the Feb. 14 show.
But because producers likely knew their top 24 (privately) around Thanksgiving, then the audition shows could be edited and assembled with story lines about contestants that could make the semifinals -- the sailor, the auto shop woman in the Army Reserves, etc.
In other words, producers also know which singers likely won't make the Top 24, so they won't devote much TV time to them. I'm guessing that's what happened to Kenny Mathis of Forest Park two years ago, when he advanced to the Hollywood Round but we practically never saw him on the show. The same thing could happen to Robert Hatcher of Westwood that I wrote about Tuesday; time will tell. But my guess is that decisions made by late November inform the editing of the preproduced (non-live) audition shows.
Give Fox folks credit, they know how to craft dramatic story lines around the humor from the bad singers. Whether they can keep our interest for 10 hours of auditions over four weeks, we'll find out. Regardless, I expect continued big ratings for the competition shows -- the Top 24 starting Feb. 20, and the Top 12 beginning March 13. And I won't be surprised if the May finale matches or tops last year's 36.4 million viewers.
Sorry this ran so long.... Hope you found it insightful.
Are you watching "Idol" this year? What do you think?