‘American Idol’ Premiere Ratings: How Far Has the Mighty Fallen?

At its peak, Fox’s singing competition opened to nearly 40 million viewers — last night saw less than a third of that

American Idol

“American Idol” ain’t what it used to be — though no shows are what “American Idol” used to be, at least from a TV ratings perspective. (Sit down, Super Bowl — we’re talking about television series here.)

On Wednesday, “Idol” aired Part 1 of its final season premiere, rendering an all-time low across the advertiser-sought 18-49 demographic in the process. Technically, it actually avoided hitting a low in total viewers, but only if you count its series premiere in the summer of 2002 as an unknown commodity co-hosted by a guy named Brian Dunkleman.

Following its blistering start, Fox fast-tracked the singing competition to resume over the subsequent winter, more than doubling its Nielsen numbers in the process. From there, “American Idol” went up, up and away — eventually opening Season 6 to an insane 15.8 demo rating and 37.4 million viewers, per Nielsen’s Live + Same Day ratings.

The following year, the show, while still extremely strong, began its inevitable slide. The premieres predictably declined each year thereafter, as TV viewing habits shifted, copycats emerged, and the general cachet wore off.

While everyone seems to agree that it’s time for “American Idol” to go, it’s important that we make one thing clear about its current numbers: Last night’s farewell run debut was not a failure. Fox handily won primetime against its broadcast competition. And while the show has been dropping year over year — sometimes heavily — the Wednesday opener retained more than 90 percent of its demo and total audience from Season 14. Even the mighty CBS would sign up for a show that bows to almost 11 million “live” viewers — especially in Year 15.

It didn’t hurt that “American Idol” had a ton of farewell hype, reunion performances and a Kanye West/Kim Kardashian audition spoof last night. But still, credit where it’s due.

Plus, last night was up year over year in one Nielsen measurement. Per the company’s Twitter TV Ratings, “American Idol” generated 100,000 tweets, which were seen by a unique audience of 2.5 million users a total of 7.6 million times. Those numbers are all up from 2015, when the season premiere managed just 78,000 tweets to 2 million viewers, seen 5.1 million times.

Of course, as live TV viewing has steadily declined, Twitter use has risen.

One more caveat for the below figures: Not all of “American Idol’s” season premieres were the exact same length of time, either. But, with the exception of the summer-to-winter shift and the impossible-to-overstate DVR adoption, the comparisons have remained pretty fair.

Below are all 15 seasons of “American Idol’s” season premiere, Night 1. The first number is the “live” Nielsen rating in the key 18-49 demographic, the second is the average of total viewers for that same-day showing. Some notations in italics.

American Idol season premiere ratings