American Idol judges and hosts for the Farewell Season (left to right): Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr. and Ryan Seacrest

The Streaming ‘Idol’

Simon Fuller, 'American Idol' creator, predicts a future for talent shows that's not only possible, but in a way already exists

UPDATE: This article was originally posted on March 31st, 2016. As you may have already heard, on May 9th, 2017 ABC confirmed its plans to bring back American Idol to prime time. Here’s hoping some of the ideas expressed here are considered for the new incarnation of the show.

It may not be the end for the most famous talent show in the world. At least according to a weird prediction I found while checking my Yahoo! news feed. Yes, I still use Yahoo! As a front page at least, for Google is my digital bloodhound. But I digress. The fifteenth and current season of American Idol, that mainstay of reality T.V. competitions, has been announced for some time as the final one, the “Farewell Season”. But as it turns out, its main driving force may not be ready to let go. According to Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo! Music’s Reality Rocks column, show creator Simon Fuller even hints at possible alternatives for a reboot. So much for goodbye.

Fuller was interviewed during a press dinner to celebrate the show’s historical run. The resulting article quoted him as saying: “Who knows? Here we are in 2016. There’s plenty of opportunities to be very interactive. The sort of burgeoning reach of social media, and what social media has become, is perfectly suited to what American Idol could be going forward – and might have been, if social media had been around in the past[…] So I’m thinking far more interactive, far more connected, far broader.” He also mentioned Snapchat, but I’ll ignore it. Ask Snapchat. It knows what it did!

Sad Snapchat
Oh, you remember now, don’t you, Casper? (SOURCE: Snapchat.)

What Fuller is hinting at, if you read between his lines, is a version of American Idol not tied down by prime-time network schedules, which allows people to play auditions at their leisure, in any device they own. One where they can use the same gadget on which they’re watching to vote for their favorite, cutting wait times for results. An utopia where the only thing you’d see live is the final, which could also be streamed as well.

Am I wrong to assume we’re there already and we have been for a while?

Why the future of American Idol, and all talent shows, is now

Question: when was the last time you watched and episode of American Idol live, or any other talent competition for that matter? I’m more of an X-Factor UK fan or a Voice guy. (Miss you, XTina!) I even dabble in the occasional America’s Got Talent. I haven’t watched a live show in ages because, well, time escapes you when you’re an adult. Yet I could probably tell you my current favorite in any of those contests. How? Either I watch show clips on YouTube or I binge watch all episodes at once from my DVR.

American Idol on YouTube
Aren’t all talent competitions already sponsored by YouTube? (SOURCE: YouTube / Fremantle Media.)

I’m getting the best of both worlds, if you think about it. I can between watching the best five minute performance of every episode at any convenient time of the day. Or if I prefer to wait (and I’m able to avoid the spoilers that pop up immediate after the elimination results), I can enjoy the totally intense, immersive weekend experience of watching vocal gladiators sing to the death for hours. With the added benefit of skipping through all the unnecessarily long moments of “suspense”.

My vote will still count if I send it online through the show-branded app within each episode’s weekly timeframe. (Suck it, calling rates!) If the season finale were offered exclusively by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video or whichever digital streaming services bids highest, I’d be happy to watch it live on any of them, as my wife intelligently suggested. It might even be better if I watch the show on YouTube and a streaming provider, since I can skip whole ads on my DVR.

Strength in Audience Numbers

Consequently, I am positive I’m not the only person who watches talent shows like this. Put together, I’m willing to bet we’d make a pretty sizable group.

My point is this: not only is Fuller’s general idea for ‘Idol’ or any show possible, it already has an established viewer base. The fact that no big production company or sponsor has jumped at this obvious opportunity boggles the mind.

All people like to sing, you know, even without tone, training or talent (that’s what showers are for). But I could’ve sworn everybody, especially talent competition producers, also liked singing all the way to the bank. Oh, well.

Watch the Farewell Season of American Idol on FOX.

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