Interesting article on the Idol franchises...

As the Idol Empire Starts to Crack, American Idol Remains the Jewel in the Crown

by James Shepherd (2006/06/10)

There doesn't seem to be any stopping of American Idol. It's fifth season was perhaps its best 'evah,' and every winner so far has gone on to experience success after success. In fact, the first AI winner, Kelly Clarkson, has actually turned into a top award winning, international Rock/Pop star, and several runner-up contestants over past seasons have gone on into very successful careers as recording artists and entertainers. The television viewing audience within the US has been holding steady in the tens of millions each week when AI has been broadcast, making American Idol one of the most successful television shows in TV history and the most successful reality series ever undertaken. The program is also viewed in many other countries while it is running, and so, many foreign television networks have to schedule their own native Idol program around American Idol - how could their own Idol program possibly compete against it?

However, all is not rosy in the Idol Empire. Even though other countries run their own Idol programs, at last count about 34, not every nation is experiencing the same level of success as is American Idol. The rest of this article will be dealing with some of the problem countries that I know of in the English speaking world.

United Kingdom - Pop Idol

Since Idol first started in the UK, it's a wonder that there should be any problem with it there. Well, in a way there really isn't any problem with Pop Idol any more since it is no longer in existence. That's correct, after two seasons, Pop Idol is no longer running in the UK. Season 2 ended in 2003, and there hasn't been and won't be a Season 3 of Pop Idol.

Why this happened is pretty straightforward. Thanks to Simon Cowell and his X Factor, it would be foolish to run Pop Idol up against such a successful program that is so similar. Besides, the television viewers of Pop Idol 2 started in decline even without X Factor being around, and neither the winner of Pop Idol 2, nor any of the contestants have made any significant success as recording artists - as they seem to get dropped by their recording labels quite quickly. Will Young, the Pop Idol 1 winner has had definite long-lasting success, but even Gareth Gates from Pop Idol 1, the one who came in second, just got the boot. He had great initial success, but his second album just slumped far too much for BMG's tastes. As Simon Cowell has stated from time to time, "the music industry is very cruel." I guess Simon should know, just as he also knows that the music entertainment industry can be very cut-throat too as he is the one behind this whole X Factor business.

Australian Idol

Australian Idol 4 is now in the audition process before full production begins. A new winner will be announced before the year is out, but this may be the last season of Idol in Australia. Mark Holden, one of the celebrity judges there, is preparing for it: Australian Idol Faces Axe. Here too, the TV viewers have been declining, dropping by about 40% in Season 3 from the previous seasons. Since Idol is essentially a television program, and recording artists are just a byproduct, and when viewers decline significantly, well, I guess the TV industry is a cruel one too.

As for the byproduct coming out of Australian Idol, even Shannon Noll who placed second in Australian Idol 1 has had more sales and success as a recording artist than the last two winners combined. So when your television viewers start to lose interest, and for obvious reasons, it could very well be the axe for Australian Idol this year. Let us say this much: it's on very shaky ground. Also, since the Australian version of X Factor started up last year, it's no wonder that people see the writing on the wall. Just ask Mark Holden, the celebrity judge from Australian Idol, AND Australia's X Factor - but all cut-throat artists don't all benefit from being on both sides of the fence.

New Zealand Idol

There really haven't been many glory days for Idol in New Zealand. After just starting the production process for Season 3, Sony-BMG has refused to renew its contract with New Zealand Idol - and yes, this simply reflects how badly things went with the first two seasons. Right now, FremantleMedia is scrambling to find a replacement for Sony-BMG, and remember dear reader, this is New Zealand and it's not as if there are many alternatives to replace a major record label who hands out the winning contract to the Idol winner. Idol had already arranged a cash prize of $50,000 in addition to the record contract for the winner just to sweeten the pot, but now they have no record contract to offer - just the money.

The winner for Season 1 was dropped by Sony-BMG after a year. Yes, Ben Lummis had a great single hit, and his debut album did quite well (3 X platinum), but radio stations refused to play his second single. However, sometimes good CD sales are not everything that a record label looks at, as Canadian Idol 1 winner Ryan Malcolm found out about a year after winning his Idol title. The winner of New Zealand Idol 2, Rosita Vai, had a hit debut single, but her debut album tanked very badly. As far as I know, she is still with Sony-BMG, but given the situation, I doubt she will be continue on with them when the label can exercise its option not to renew. This is why the label wants out of this deal with New Zealand Idol - it can not afford to finance a new artist every year that they are not willing to market.

Interestingly enough, apparently the television viewing audience for Idol in New Zealand is a ratings hit, but the label has bailed out and this has thrown everything into turmoil. New Zealand is a country with a land area and population equivalent to the State of Colorado, and this is a very small market for CD sales. Although TV ratings are good, but since the label bailed out, which record label is going to step in to give out the recording contract to the winner - remember, Sony-BMG is a major label, and when they bail out of situation...?

Canadian Idol

Speaking of labels bailing out on an Idol program completely, what happens when a major label bails out on an recording artist? This is what happened to Canadian Idol's first winner, Ryan Malcolm. Now nothing official came out of Sony-BMG Canada that stated it dropped Ryan, but there are some subtle hints as in Ryan has now formed a new band, Low Level Flight, and is "shopping around" for a label to produce their new CD. If he was still signed with Sony-BMG, such shopping around would not be necessary. Sony-BMG also signed up Audrey DeMontigny from Season 1, and it appears that they have dropped her as well. I assume that the label is not issuing official "we dropped so-and-so" press releases at the urging of the television network CTV, so that the illusion that winning Canadian Idol is a guaranty to great success is maintained. There are also signs of a rocky relationship between Sony-BMG and CTV.

Canadian Idol 2 was an extremely successful Idol program in every way - great TV ratings, and Kalan Porter as the winner has experienced, so far, nothing but success after success as a recording artist and performer. But so many of the other contestants were top-notch too, and Sony-BMG did not sign up any of them except the winner. Was Sony-BMG simply stupid or vindictive? It did not produce the CI2 collection CD for the fans, and yet this CD would have been a top-seller. When I asked CTV why the collection CD was not produced, it said, "Ask the label." When I approached Sony-BMG Canada, they did not even bother responding.

Regardless, Theresa Sokyrka, who came in second on CI2, produced her own CD as an independent artist and it was certified gold in no time at all. Jacob Hoggard, who came in third, was signed up by Universal and his debut album is certified platinum, and Hedley, Hoggard's band, has become a relatively hot item in Canada with their singles being played all over the radio. So, did Sony-BMG simply drop the ball? Who knows, but the above are some "subtle" points to chew on, and as for Season 3...

The television ratings for Canadian Idol still remain very high, and that is what really matters. There is no sign of the ratings declining so far, and good talent is coming forth so far... more or less. So, the Idol program in Canada is in much better shape than it is in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. But since the CI3 winner's debut CD album, "Melissa O'Neil," has not shown very strong sales, there are still some trouble signs on the horizon.

With only one out of three CI winners becoming an unquestionable success, and with the record label acting like it doesn't really know how to identify and cultivate musical talent, and does not know how to take advantage of opportunities at their door-step, there could be some serious trouble along the way for Canadian Idol in that good talent will simply avoid the audition process. It really won't matter how many times Zack Werner throws garbage cans at auditioners, because ratings are driven by good talent and not by the immature antics of CI judges.