It’s official: American Idol, a show that changed television and American popular culture, is coming back.
“American Idol on ABC...that has a nice ring to it,” Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC, said in a statement. “Idol is an entertainment icon, and now it will air where it belongs, in ABC’s lineup of addictive fan favorites alongside Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor. America, get ready for the return of a bigger, bolder and better-than-ever Idol.”
The show will premiere in 2018, but little more is known about ABC's incarnation of Idol at this time. ABC did not announce a host or any judges — it's noteworthy that original host Ryan Seacrest is suddenly part of the ABC family now that he's co-hosting Live With Kelly and Ryan. Although, that herculean feat of time management (host a daily morning talk show in New York City, host a daily radio show, and travel the country during auditions before hosting another live series) is one even the famously efficient Seacrest might struggle with.
Rumors of Idol's resurrection began to swirl as soon as the series ended in April 2016 — a fact Peter Hurwitz, CEO of CORE Media Group, which produces Idol, believes speaks to the audience's ongoing appetite for the series. “All of the intense speculation surrounding the comeback of American Idol demonstrates just how popular and powerful this brand remains,” he said in a statement. “ABC shares our belief in the enduring value of Idol and will provide us with the perfect new home to showcase the gold standard of singing competition shows.”
American Idol aired on Fox for 15 seasons, and came to an end very recently — in April of last year. The show premiered in June 2002, and grew into a gargantuan ratings machine. It dominated all of television, and made Fox the No. 1 network in the key 18 to 49 demographic. The second season's finale (Ruben Studdard v. Clay Aiken) brought in 38 million viewers and a 16.8 among 18 to 49 year-olds.
At its height — in Seasons 5 and 6 — the show averaged more than 30 million viewers.
With those huge ratings came the show's standing as one of the final mass cultural phenomenons. Whether it was picking sides in the competition itself, or watching the drama among the judges — particularly Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul — play out on television, American Idol was a show that demanded to be watched live. Other than football, such things no longer exist on that large of a scale.
The show's ratings declined, of course, and by the end, it was averaging a 2.2 in the demo and 9.1 million viewers for Season 15. But in today's increasingly splintered television world, those would be strong numbers if American Idol could still achieve them.
This story was updated to include ABC's confirmation that American Idol will return for the 2017-2018 TV season.