Is this the beginning of the end for American Idol?
The reality juggernaut drew in 21.9 million viewers when its 11th season debuted on Fox Wednesday. In case you're counting, that's an 18 percent drop-off from the 26.2 million who tuned in for the Season 10 premiere last January.
The 2010 opener averaged 29.9 million viewers.
By comparison, Fox's other singing talent show, The X Factor -- which features Idol alums Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul -- debuted to 12.5 million viewers on Sept. 21. NBC's The Voice attracted 11.8 million for its April 26 series premiere.
Critics have offered a few theories to explain A.I.'s slide in viewership.
For starters, American Idol's viewer numbers have been slowly dropping for years. Secondly, there isn't much buzz around the show this year, especially compared to last season, when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler made their judging debuts.
And, of course, the success of similar series, notably the aforementioned X Factor and The Voice, may be slowly chipping away at the popularity of the mothership of all singing competitions: Idol.
To be fair, Idol's ratings decline is consistent with 15 percent to 20 percent drops for every other returning reality show this season. Survivor, The Biggest Loser, America's Top Model, Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor have all seen drops in popularity with viewers over the past few months, according to reports.
Is the reality genre facing extinction? That's anyone's guess.
Though it's a long way from the record 37.3 million who tuned into the sixth season premiere in 2007, Idol was still America's most-watched show on Wednesday night.
Excluding football playoffs, the two-night Season 11 premiere will again top the week's most-watched broadcasts. The competition, which wraps up in May, will likely remain this season's top show among adults 18-49.
It's long been rumored that Idol will end its run at the conclusion of its 12th season.
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