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'American Idol' Panic: Could New Judges Save the Show? (Analysis)

Replacing Mariah Carey with Jennifer Lopez is not the solution.

American Idol season 12 rock results judges L
Michael Becker / Fox
"Idol" judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and Randy Jackson.

With American Idol ratings in a tailspin, producers are scrambling behind the scenes to keep the Fox franchise afloat with just four weeks to go until season 12 crowns a winner.

Who will it be: gentle Kree Harrison, fierce Candice Glover, sultry Amber Holcomb or peppy Angie Miller? At this point, does anyone really care who wins?

Eleven years in, the urgency surrounding Idol has diminished significantly along with its audience. What once used to be appointment television -- with Kelly Clarkson's 2002 victory captivating the nation like the Super Bowl, or a presidential election -- has grown increasingly stale. While most popular TV series tend to peter off somewhere around the six-year mark, Idol has survived highs and lows to dominate the primetime landscape only to be surpassed by NBC rival The Voice, which successfully tweaked the singing competition genre and recruited a panel of celebrity judges who seemed more like family than strangers who tolerate one another. (See: Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj.)

Meanwhile, extra competition from the internet and various handheld devices continues to divert attention away from Idol. With so many other (better) options and shiny new distractions, it's no wonder the show is losing juice. 

STORY: 'American Idol' Recap: Judges Slam Kree Harrison

The numbers talk: Wednesday's performance show, which saw the panelists cracking down on do-no-wrong frontrunner Harrison, dipped slightly from last week to attract 12.2 million viewers. At its peak, Idol regularly pulled in around 30 million a night. But last month, Idol dropped to an all-time low in the key 18-49 demo.

Like the Today show blaming Ann Curry for its ratings decline, Idol producers and Fox execs seem to have found a scapegoat in Carey. On Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter published the bombshell scoop that there was a secret (and failed) plan to replace Carey with Jennifer Lopez, and that Carey responded by threatening litigation. Insiders told THR a search is underway to find replacements for the pop diva and possibly even Minaj, who's a sharp-witted loose cannon but seemingly too aggressive for the show's core viewer (a "Midwestern, Southern, older woman," says a source).

Keith Urban, a sensitive and level-headed fan favorite, could also be shown the door along with series stalwart Randy Jackson. (It would somehow make sense for Ryan Seacrest to be the last one standing -- on American Idol and after the Apocalypse.)

If history is any indication, then revamping the judges' panel with another line-up of famous faces won't help Idol win back viewers and defeat The Voice. There will never be another Kelly Clarkson. There will never be another Simon Cowell. It's over. After Cowell jumped ship in 2010, along with Kara DioGuardi and one-season panelist Ellen DeGeneres, the show unveiled two A-list substitutes to join Jackson: Steven Tyler, a rambling softie, and Lopez, who proved to be a popular choice with a tough-love approach and killer wardrobe.

Still, Idol bled viewers and Lopez walked out after two seasons to focus on her music and movie careers.

All told, not even J-Lo can stop the bleeding.

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson

Email: erin.carlson@thr.com