American Idol Turns 10 with Big Changes

The most popular show on television, American Idollaunches its tenth season tonight on Fox .

But tonight is a huge test, and Idol may very well be dethroned.

Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez of American Idol
Getty Images
Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez of American Idol

Will Idol be able to hold on to its ratings and sky high ad rates without Simon Cowell? Will fans mind the tweaks to the format? The pressure's on for Idol to prove itself, and fast. Cowell is busy working on X Factor, which is set to debut on Fox in September and could very well take Idol's crown.

Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are joining as judges, in place of Cowell (who played the real opinion anchor of the show), and Ellen DeGeneres (who replaced Paula Abdul). The only consistent faces are Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson. The big question — can either Lopez or Tyler be as fun and compelling as Cowell?

Millions of dollars are at stake; Idol is the most expensive 30 second ad on regular TV (an average of $485,000), and draws an average of 24 million viewers twice a week to Fox. But as Idol creeps up in age, so does the age of its viewers. And older viewers generally translate to lower ad rates. The median age for American Idol has increased *every consecutive season* from 31.9 years old in 2002 to 45 years in 2010.

Fremantle, the powerhouse production studio behind Idol is doing everything it can to keep the format fresh. Contestants will audition on-stage in Las Vegas and Hollywood, there will be a sudden death round and contestants this year can be as young as fifteen.

And this year the show aims to really focus on musical talent. Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope Geffen A&M Records is coming in as an in-house coach. And the show aims to really focus on musical talent. There's been a correlation between high ratings and huge musical stars — Kelly Clarkson didn't just sell records, she also drew viewers.

We'll be carefully watching the ratings, which are due out mid-morning tomorrow. We're also waiting to see Fox's full list of Idol sponsors. It appears Coca Cola and Ford are on board again — we'll see what other marketers are willing to bet on a Cowell-less, aging Idol.

Questions? Comments?