Did ABC's American Idol Gamble Pay Off?

Singing competition returned after only two years off the air to 10.3 total million viewers on Sunday, March 11

By Billy Nilles Mar 12, 2018 4:34 PMTags
Watch: Katy Perry Wanted Lionel Richie as Third "Idol" Judge

American Idol is back!

The singing competition has returned to the airwaves on ABC less than two years after host Ryan Seacrest closed out the original iteration's final episode on Fox with a foreboding "Goodbye—for now," and all the chatter in the lead-up to the series re-premiere surrounded whether ABC's big, expensive gamble would pay off. Would new judge Katy Perry's rumored $25 million dollar payday be worth it? Would an already eroding audience (hence the initial cancellation) somehow reverse the trend and turn out for the return in droves? And would they even enjoy what they see if they did tune in?

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Well, the early results to at least one of those questions are in now that the fast national ratings for Sunday night have been released and the answer is to query regarding whether the audience would be there is a resounding: Sure!

With 10.3 million total viewers over the two hours and a 2.3 rating in the key adult 18-49 demo, the premiere was certainly respectable, though down a bit from the premiere of the final Fox season in both areas. The 2016 episode pulled in 10.96 million total and 3.0 in the demo, though it aired on a Wednesday night, which is a much more competitively-programmed evening of television, usually. Long story short, it's hard to really compare these apples to 2016's oranges, but all in all, not too shabby, especially when considering this was ABC's largest audience in the 8 p.m. hour since October 2012!

The other big ratings story of the evening was Idol's complete trouncing of Fox's O.J. Simpson: The Lost Confession? special, which was rushed to air two weeks after being announced, no doubt to try and sabotage its former show's return. The two-hour special only pulled in 4.4 million viewers and a 1.2 in the demo. Better luck next time, Fox!

While it's hard to say whether or not ABC's gamble truly paid off after just one night, the ratings certainly are promising. However, it will be going head-to-head against reigning champ The Voice in its second night of auditions, meaning we'll get a real taste of its impact tonight. The true success story, of course, will be written when we see if the premiere audience returns or not. And judging from the viewer reaction in E! News' highly scientific post-premiere poll, Idol may still have a challenging time ahead of it. 

When asked what you thought about the new Disney-fied version of Idol, 43.2 percent said it was merely fine and they needed to see more, while 33.4 percent said they hated it. Only 23.5 percent of E! News readers said they loved it.

As for Perry and her fellow judges Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, 43.3 percent of readers said they missed the Idol days of youre, while 31.1 percent said they thought the trio had great chemistry. 25.6 percent conceded that they were just OK and still had some work to do.

As for ABC's hopes for the series, obviously they're high, but as Robert Mills, the network's head of alternative programming revealed to E! News ahead of the premiere, they're not contingent on any particular number. "Look, I think there's not necessarily a number, but this thing really needs to resonate as much as it did.  That necessarily doesn't mean that it has to do the same numbers, but it has to be a competition with contestants people really care about and are invested in," he said. "This only works if the whole country really gets behind this and starts caring and votes for these contestants. That's why this show worked. As much as the judges were absolutely fantastic and they're great here, obviously you want this to be one of the biggest things on TV honestly. That is the hope because that's how this will become a phenomenon and how we will actually care about who the American Idol is."

Are you surprised by how well Idol did in the ratings or were you expecting something even better? And do you think the ratings will hold up against The Voice? Sound off in the comments below!

American Idol airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

—Reporting by Tierney Bricker

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