American Idol Returns For It’s 11th Season Tonight!!

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(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

It’s finally time for another season of terrible auditions and funny people trying to become the next American Idol! And it all begins tonight!!

According to MSN.com:

Last season, the challenge for “American Idol” was to reinvent itself without mainspring Simon Cowell. Having accomplished this not-inconsiderable feat — numerically if not aesthetically — it goes up against this year’s challenge: a truly competitive landscape.

Whether by design or by accident, “The Voice” and “X Factor” executed a perfect flanking maneuver. “The Voice,” with its mentor/team structure, was a nurturing love-fest that outstripped even the warm-and-fuzziest supportive efforts of the “Idol” judges. “The X Factor,” with a similarly competitive mentor/team structure, provided a new home for the snarkiness and candor that made “Idol” a phenomenon in the first place — thanks to Cowell, the original Sultan of Snide, and surprisingly testy fellow judge L.A. Reid.

“Idol” finds itself stuck in the middle: Without radically changing its now-classic format, it can’t get much cuddlier, and its current judges don’t have a prayer of competing in a battle of wits with Cowell and Reid on “X Factor.” “Idol” is also hamstrung by its age limits: Its lower limit of 15 prevents meltdowns like Rachel Crow and Drew eliminations on “X Factor.” But cringe-worthy as those sob-spectaculars were, they may have driven more eyeballs to the program.

And the upper cutoff of 28 on “Idol” may preserve a certain bouncy youthful tone, but it also costs the show potential older-audience appeal and, more important, talented and likable singers such as Josh Krajcik (“X Factor”) and Javier Colon (“The Voice”).

Still, with its first average audience increase in five years under its belt, OG status and substantial ratings superiority, “Idol” has a plenty of strengths as it launches its 11th season Wednesday, Jan. 18, on FOX. But it seems as if the show is set to coast on last year’s rebound, which was more attributable to a vastly stronger talent lineup than any procedural or personnel changes.

Reports from the recent TV critics winter press tour depicted the producers and judges essentially signaling status quo all the way, spending more time sniping complacently at the competition than announcing new wrinkles.

That approach sounds like a ticket to a quick ratings drop. The show may have regained some ratings ground (though falling far short of its 2006 30-million viewership average), but reviewing last season, it’s clear there are still key issues to be addressed:

See me on FOX 35 in the morning breaking down and making fun of the opening show auditions. Oh what fun!!

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