Can ‘American Idol’ Overcome Singer Overload?

Every year, it seems that people question whether “American Idol” (Fox, 8 p.m.) can continue its run as No. 1 show on TV. It happened especially last year when the judging panel was retooled with personalities who didn’t seem to have much invested in the acts before them (certainly they were not going to produce any records for them).

Stephen Tyler acted goofy enough to be entertaining, but Jennifer Lopez was wholly unprepared to judge, literally unable to say no in early rounds. A show where Randy Jackson’s catch phrases passes as seasoned wisdom is not one with a hopeful future.

It did OK last year, with numbers dropping a bit but maintaining its long lead at No. 1, despite a season that started to sound more like “Nashville Star” as it headed to the finals.

This year there is a much bigger threat and that’s tedium.

“Idol” has long had to compete against other singing contests, but never has the pursuit become such a year-round spectacle. After an early summer hit for “The Voice,” it’s back again in the fall, next week. More than that, Fox itself robbed the potential of “Idol” anticipation by staging its very similar “The X-Factor” in the fall, complete with Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, viewer votes and a winner you could see coming a mile away.

Is the audience that followed “X-Factor” ready to gear up again? Being off the air from June to January is what helped drive anticipation for “Idol” in its first 10 years.

This year, it seems we just got off that horse.

“Idol” producers will tell you they’re never worried, that people always talk about the possibility that numbers will be gone. But that may be the problem – nobody’s talking much about “Idol” at all this season.

And yet we know how it will all go down, closing our eyes: The severely deluded singers whom we’ll laugh at, the supremely talented ones who we’ll cheer, those with complicated back stories we will follow.

“Idol” producers will say that its show is different – that it’s more intimate. But by that they only mean that the audition room (actually second auditions) just has judges, and not throngs of audience members yelling their own opinions as happens on “X-Factor,” “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent,” you name it.

Sometimes the silence of the “Idol” audition room or its constant conceits (they pick the wrong exit door) provides some charm. But the one thing that put “Idol” on the map, no matter what you say – Cowell’s withering criticism – is quite absent on the new panel, just because they don’t have the stomach for it.

“You’re not ready, come back next year” is about the worst thing they say; “Singing’s not your thing” the most direct.

There will be some entertaining moments here and there. But after four hours of “Idol” auditions in the next five days, we may be sick of it by Sunday.

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