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‘American Idol’ Ratings Woes: A Season-by-Season Timeline of the Decline

A look back at the rise — and fall — of a television phenomenon

Every show lucky enough to last 13 seasons hits highs and lows — but few shows climb as high as “American Idol,” so few shows slide as far.

The show hit an all-times ratings low last Thursday of 1.7 in the key 18-49 demographic, less than a sixth the show’s average rating peak. (Granted, that number doesn’t take Live + 7 numbers — which take into account all viewers over a week — so it’s uncertain what kind of lift that episode will receive with delayed viewing.) During its high-water mark, the fifth season, it averaged a 12.6 rating in the demo.

See video: Jennifer Lopez Drops F-Bomb Live on ‘American Idol’

At first the road downhill was gentle. But it started to get bumpy in Season 11 — the second season with judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. The show tumbled more than two full ratings points from the previous season, to an average 6.0 for the season.

Part of the problem? The music show market was getting glutted, thanks in large part to the success of NBC’s new hit “The Voice,” which borrowed plenty of elements from “Idol.”

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The next season, “Idol” slipped to a 4.5 rating.

The current “Idol” season is averaging a 3.7 — its lowest average yet.

Also read: 2014 TV Season: Renewals, Cancelations, and Shows on the Bubble

But the fat lady hasn’t sung. Every show would envy the long streak of “Idol,” and most would admire its current ratings as well.

The show has endured even as a show it largely inspired — Simon Cowell‘s “X Factor” — came and went.

Also read: ‘American Idol’ Lawsuit Claims Label Shorted on Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood Royalties

Season 1
WINNER: Kelly Clarkson
RUNNER-UP: Justin Guarini
JUDGES: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Clarkson’s rally to become a contender — and eventually a winner — in the contest

Season 2
WINNER: Ruben Studdard
RUNNER-UP: Clay Aiken
JUDGES: Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Edgar Nova’s never-say-die attempt to get back on the show after being rejected

Season 3
WINNER: Fantasia Barrino
RUNNER-UP: Diana DeGarmo
JUDGES: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: William Hung ushers in the golden age of the novelty contestant.

Season 4
WINNER: Carrie Underwood
JUDGES: Paula Adbul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Celebrity judges including Mark McGrath, Gene Simmons and — yes! — Kenny Loggins enter the danger zone of the auditions.

Season 5
WINNER: Taylor Hicks
RUNNER-UP: Katharine McPhee
JUDGES: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Who among us didn’t catch at least a mild case of McPhee-ver?

Season 6
WINNER: Jordin Sparks
RUNNER-UP: Blake Lewis
JUDGES: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Sanjaya super-fan Ashley Ferl, aka “the crying girl.”

Season 7
WINNER: David Cook
RUNNER-UP: David Archuleta
JUDGES: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Contestants are allowed to play instruments for the first time.

Season 8
WINNER: Kris Allen
RUNNER-UP: Adam Lambert
JUDGES: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Kara DioGuardi joins the judges’ panel, marking the first — but certainly not the last — shakeup to the judges’ lineup

Season 9
WINNER: Lee DeWyze
RUNNER-UP: Crystal Bowesox
JUDGES: Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Ellen DeGeneres
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Ellen comes aboard to replace Paula, making the judges’ panel 18 percent less addle-pated. And the world was gifted with the pop classic “Pants on the Ground,” courtesy of auditioner Larry Platt.

Season 10
WINNER: Scotty McCreery
RUNNER-UP: Lauren Alaina
JUDGES: Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler
STAND-OUT MOMENT: It’s practically a brand-new judges’ panel, with Aerosmith yowler Steven Tyler and former Fly Girl Jennifer Lopez coming on after Simon, Kara and Ellen depart the series. Also, Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine comes aboard as in-house mentor.

Season 11
WINNER: Phillip Phillips
RUNNER-UP: Jessica Sanchez
JUDGES: Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler
Average rating: 6.0
STAND-OUT MOMENT: The oh-so-juicy controversy over Jermaine Jones’ disqualification.

Season 12
WINNER: Candice Glover
RUNNER-UP: Kree Harrison
JUDGES: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban
STAND-OUT MOMENT: Keith Urban looking like he wants to sink into the floor as Mariah and Nicki go at each other.

Season 13
JUDGES: Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr.
AVERAGE RATING: 3.7 (season-to-date)
STAND-OUT MOMENT: The return of Jennifer Lopez, which proved conclusively that there’s always room for J.Lo.

Here’s a look at the show’s ratings since the beginning. The ratings cover all viewers over a week where those numbers are available, and include the latest numbers possible.

american idol ratings chart