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Nigel Lythgoe Blames Lack of Judge Chemistry for ‘Idol’ Ratings Slump

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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"American Idol" has been plummeting in the ratings this season--at this rate, it won't finish the season as TV's highest-rated entertainment program, for the first time since 2004--and some naysayers blame this troubling slump on contestant selection, while many more think controversial judge Nicki Minaj is at fault. But in one of his characteristically candid interviews, this time with Zap2It, "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe doesn't lay the blame on any one judge. He says it's the four judges' overall lack of chemistry that is ruining the once-loved TV institution.

"That got off to a bad start and that didn't help anything," Nigel tells Zap2it, clearly referencing the scandalous, TMZ-disseminated video of Nicki and fellow diva judge Mariah Carey ickily bickering on the set of the "Idol" auditions last October.

"I don't think we have good chemistry with the judges. And that saddens me. They are good individually, but I miss the camaraderie we have had in the past," Nigel says bluntly--probably referring to feelgood moments like when Steven Tyler used to jam with Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul used to draw Sharpie mustaches on Simon Cowell. "Individually, every single one of them has something to offer, [but] for me it is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't quite fit."

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I think Nigel has a point here, unfortunately. Yes, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey bring musical credibility, Nicki brings the comedy (and the much-needed cutthroat candor missing from "Idol" since Simon left), and veteran judge Randy brings the nostalgia/branding/continuity that comes from his past 11 seasons of faithful service. I actually think in their own separate ways, they are some of the best judges "Idol" has ever had. But together, they just bring a lot of bad vibes.

On any typical Season 12 "Idol" episode, Nicki throws shade at Mariah (if the two even acknowledge each other at all) and side-eyes Randy; Mariah stares off in the opposite direction, like a cat distracted by a laser-pointer, as she rambles nonsensically and ignores her castmates; a jaded Randy (Mariah's manager) runs interference between the two alpha-females; and poor Keith just sits there on the end, probably wondering why he ever quit "The Voice Australia" for "American Idol" in the first place.

Compare all this to "The Voice U.S.," actually, which is up 8 percent from its ratings last fall and just hit a ratings high for this season--while "Idol" recently hit an all-time series low--and is now officially America's top-rated talent show. The coaches on the revamped "Voice" Season 4 panel (longtime bromancers Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, joined by likable newbies Usher and Shakira, who happily fit right in) look like they're having fun on the show. And that feeling is contagious: The viewers at home end up having fun as well. That's why they keep tuning in.

But there's not nearly enough fun to be had on "Idol" this season, and any viewers who do think that reality-TV feuding is fun are probably tuning in to "Real Housewives" and "Love & Hip-Hop" instead, anyway. It's no wonder, then, that "Idol" has dropped a whopping 20 percent in the ratings (compared to this point in the competition last year) and has lost 23 percent of viewers in that coveted 18-49 demographic.

So, if Nigel thinks judge chemistry is the problem, does that mean that Nicki, Mariah, Keith, and/or Randy won't be invited back for Season 13 (assuming there is a Season 13)? Interestingly, Nigel claims "Fox books the judges and has the last few years," so he apparently has no say in that matter. (I wonder which judges Nigel would hire, if he had his way?) However, regardless of who's making the decision, I have a feeling we may see a very different, and hopefully more chemistry-filled, judging panel on a drastically retooled "Idol" next year.

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