'American Idol': Forecasting the Season 12 Premiere Ratings

Fox is betting on Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban to keep viewers from hitting their singing competition saturation point after two consecutive years of steep drops and a fall filled with "The Voice" and "The X Factor."
Courtesy of FOX

American Idol returns Wednesday night for its 12th season and its second revamped judges table since Simon Cowell departed in 2010.

And that premiere all but guarantees a drop in ratings. In addition to broadcast TV's general downward trend in same-day viewing, the most recent two runs of American Idol debuted to significant year-over-year drops.

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Three years after its 2007 peak, American Idol's first season with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler opened with 26.3 million viewers and a 9.8 rating in the key adults 18-to-49 demographic, respective 13 percent and 15 percent drops from the year before. And last year's American Idol opener suffered more significant drops -- 17 percent in viewers and 25 percent in the demo -- for an opener of 21.9 million and a 7.4 rating.

Whether the additions of Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban can stave these losses will reveal itself Thursday morning, but the real question might be whether last fall pushed TV viewers to their singing competition saturation point. This is American Idol's first season following a fall with two singing shows: NBC's The Voice and network neighbor The X Factor.

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The Voice seems to be the darling of the genre since premiering in 2011, but as the graph below illustrates, American Idol thus far has kept its head well above the ratings watermark set by its closest competition. The recent opening month of The Voice averaged more than 6.5 million viewers and nearly two demo ratings points shy of American Idol's average in January 2012.

Wednesday's American Idol premiere would have to shed 44 percent of its most recent premiere's showing just to tie September's Voice opener -- but is that even out of the question at this point? Check out the last two years' worth of American Idol, The Voice and X Factor ratings below and place your bets about tonight's numbers.

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Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV