I've been watching American Idol this season with my wife and 10-year-old son (it remains among the best family programming on television). The show so far seems better than ever.
There has been a seamless transition from Paula to Ellen, whom I think is a significant upgrade - interestingly lending more seriousness and less goofiness to the early proceedings. Ellen has already started to show her comedic chops and that she can hold her own with the other judges - despite not having the same music background.
I have been quoted in the press as saying that American Idol will continue to be strong as long as Simon remains with the show. While that may have been true a a few years ago, I don't think it is any longer.
- As American Idol's ratings have gradually declined over the years, the show is actually better positioned to withstand Simon's exit. A few years ago, his leaving might have caused the show to go from a 27 household share to a 20, which would have seemed like a major hit (and it would have been). Now, the show might go from its current 19-20 share to a 17-18 share, which will seem like normal ratings erosion.
- The gradual rating decline has also meant a gradual aging of Idol's audience. Five years ago it's median age was under 40. Now it's in the mid-40s. As the average viewer gets older, Simon's importance diminishes.
- As Simon enters his last season with the show, it seems as if his input has been edited down slightly, and other judges, particularly Randy, have stepped up their criticism of contestants.
- Much of Simon's popularity had to do with his interaction with Paula Abdul. Ellen's much stronger personality has created a different dynamic between Simon and all the other judges.