Graham: Welcome back, sort of, ‘American Idol’

The singing competition show is returning next year. But does it have to?

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“American Idol” is coming back. Yay?

After several weeks of rumors — notice I didn’t say anticipation — ABC confirmed this week it will be resurrecting the long-dead singing competition and bringing it back for a 2018 revival.

Of course, “long dead” is a relative term. While it seems like the show has been off the air for several years, a quick Google search reveals the finale aired, wait, this can’t be correct, just last year. Are you serious?

Yes, “Idol” wrapped up its 15th and final season in April 2016, and now just over a year later, it’s set to make a comeback. Even the “Spider-Man” series, notorious for rebooting itself, stayed away longer before popping back up from the grave. Ryan Seacrest barely had time to pick up one more measly job before the mothership called him back.

In announcing the show’s return, Disney/ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood pronounced, “America, get ready for the return of a bigger, bolder and better-than-ever ‘Idol.’ ”

America was unavailable for comment.

By any measure, it’s too soon for an “Idol” return. There was never any doubt the show would eventually make its way back — the series finale even ended with Seacrest cryptically saying, “Goodnight, America … for now” — but there haven’t exactly been candlelight vigils held praying for its return.

Quick, name the winner of the final season. If you said Trintessa Colburn, maybe you’re right? I actually made that name up, but you almost believed me. (The winner was actually a young fellow named Trent Harmon, for what it’s worth.)

In its time, “Idol” had a great run. At its peak — which scientists and cultural experts have determined was Season 5, the one with Katharine McPhee, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler and all three original judges, the one which gray-haired soul man Taylor Hicks won only to never be heard from again — it was appointment television of the highest order.

After Season 5, the show started its long, slow decline. The O.G. judges hung around for a few more years, Adam Lambert came along in Season 8 and spiced things up (he was the best contestant the show ever had, don’t argue with me), but the formula wore out its welcome and the talent level among the contestants declined, as can be expected when you comb the country for superstars every year. (Guys, there are only so many superstars to go around.)

But in finding Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, in resurrecting the career of Paula Abdul and for making the name Brian Dunkleman a perennial punchline, “American Idol” solidified its place in pop culture history. It debuted in summer 2002, just two years after “Survivor” shook the television model to its core, and altered the course of TV going forward.

“Idol” gave way to a saturation of singing-based talent competitions: “The Voice,” “The X Factor,” et. al. None were as successful as “Idol” in producing legitimate superstars, although “X Factor,” which at least gave us Fifth Harmony, did better than “The Voice” ever did.

“Idol’s” best years are no doubt behind it, no matter what new tricks are in store. It’s difficult to catch lightning in a bottle, let alone do it twice, not that that has ever stopped Hollywood from trying to recapture what was once great.

Fresh ideas are tough to come by, it’s much easier to just resurrect an old formula, and from a programming standpoint bringing back “Idol” makes perfect sense for ABC: Even if it’s only a moderate hit, it will likely pull better ratings and ad revenues than would a struggling sitcom, and will be cheaper to produce to boot.

In short, it’s business. So welcome back, “American Idol,” we hardly missed you. We were never given the chance.

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