American Idol will be back for a 15th and final season.
Fox announced Monday that it had renewed the aging singing competition, and the current judges roster of Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. will all return with it — as will long-running host Ryan Seacrest.
The network did not mince words in its announcement of the renewal, confirming No. 15 would be the last for the one-time behemoth, referring to it as a "season-long celebratory event." It's been expected for some time that this renewal would be Idol's last, as the show has seen both its ratings and relevance fade in an increasingly crowded landscape. The current season has generated stronger critical favor, but only averaged a 2.7 rating among adults 18-49 and 10.7 million viewers on Wednesday nights.
Sources close to the show say that talent salaries were shaved along with the number of hours Idol occupies on Fox's schedule. While Seacrest was already locked into an additional season, per a contract inked in 2014, the trio of judges each re-upped for a fifteenth season.
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To be sure, Idol is still of value to Fox. In addition to occupying a great deal of real estate (three hours a week during the auditions this season), it has offered a dependable crowd after the network fell to No. 4 this season. And though its audience and ratings were quickly eclipsed by scripted juggernaut Empire, it's worth noting that Idol served as both a lead-in and launch pad for the hip-hop drama in January.
Created by Simon Fuller and produced by FremantleMedia North America and Fuller's 19 Entertainment, the last two seasons have been a return to normalcy for Idol — which had become a revolving door for executive producers and judges, which have included Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Ellen DeGeneres. Seacrest is the only on-camera constant, having been with the series since inception.
Idol has existed outside the traditional alternative department at Fox since exec Mike Darnell exited in 2013. It now falls under the purview of News Corp. vet David Hill, who's had the option to reassess his involvement at the end of each season. Fox TV Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman had pushed for it to be more aspirational and more focused on seasoned performers, a note that has earned the series praise.
Following Fox's announcement, Seacrest issued the following statement:
"American Idol has been a big part of my life for so long, it's frankly hard to imagine it without it. It's been a remarkable journey, and I feel very fortunate to have been part of a show that made television history in countless ways. It's a show about chasing and fulfilling dreams, and truth be told, it helped some of my own dreams come true too.
All the American Idol producers, judges, crew and everyone at Fox have been heroic in their efforts to create, produce and sustain such a groundbreaking show for so many years. I'm so glad they're going to give us a season-long send off. The last season will undoubtedly be a special and emotional one, but first I'm looking forward to closing out Season 14. The finale is always my favorite part -- two live shows with lots of surprises, and, of course, one winner!"