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NPR Arts & Life

'American Idol' To End After 15 Seasons

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A long-running, groundbreaking television favorite is calling it quits.

(SOUNDBITE OF "AMERICAN IDOL" THEME SONG)

CORNISH: Fox announced today it will end "American Idol" after its next season is finished. The show helped spawn the modern era of unscripted reality TV, but NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it suffered as it faded from the pop-culture conversation.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: At one time, this was the most anticipated line on broadcast television.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

RYAN SEACREST: This is "American Idol."

DEGGANS: Host Ryan Seacrest mixed a carnival barker's enthusiasm and a top-40 DJ's smoothness. It was the perfect introduction to a blockbuster singing competition that let fans choose the winners and drew 30 million viewers a week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

KELLY CLARKSON: (Singing) ...A moment like this. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this. Some people search forever...

DEGGANS: When a one-time waitress from Texas named Kelly Clarkson won its first season in 2002, "American Idol" seemed unstoppable. The show inspired a movie, "From Justin to Kelly," and quickly became the highest-rated series on television, discovering big names like Grammy-winner Carrie Underwood and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. American Idol, along with CBS's "Survivor" and ABC's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?," helped hook U.S. TV networks on the genre of reality TV that puts average people in highly contrived circumstances to produce real reactions. "American Idol" succeeded as a variety show filtered through the lens of reality TV. And one way the show got those real reactions from contestants was to have bad singers audition on camera in front of the judges, who could be seriously dismissive.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) We're standing here all alone.

RANDY JACKSON: Dog, man, I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: Man, I'm so sorry.

DEGGANS: And no judge was meaner than the show's breakout star, British record executive Simon Cowell, who made an art of putting down terrible vocalists.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

SIMON COWELL: You look a little odd. Your dancing is terrible. The singing was horrendous, and you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes. What are they called?

DEGGANS: Yep, he compared an adult man to a monkey called a bush baby. Eventually, there was friction between the judges as well. Producers struggled to find the right balance as stars joined and left the show. Here's Nikki Minaj clashing with fellow judges Mariah Carey and Randy Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

NICKI MINAJ: You guys make comments about everybody in the pop - you know, in popular music, Randy and Mariah.

MARIAH CAREY: Really?

MINAJ: Yeah.

CAREY: Is that what I do?

MINAJ: Yeah, you...

DEGGANS: Simon Cowell left in 2010 to start his own short-lived U.S. singing competition, "The X Factor." And NBC's "The Voice" took "American Idol's" place as TV's hottest singing competition, thanks mostly to chemistry between the superstar judges, who actually seem to like each other. "American Idol's" ratings have dipped enough that it's no longer a phenomenon, but it does draw enough viewers to stage one strong final season, the equivalent of saying goodbye at a party before the host kicks you out. Fox executives say they plan to turn "Idol's" last season into a long celebration, perhaps with appearances from past stars like Simon Cowell. It would be a final victory lap for a show that was once TV's most powerful hit-maker. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.