‘American Idol’: Four major questions facing the ABC revival

It has been 10 months since ABC, just days before its upfront presentation in New York, closed a deal to bring “American Idol” back to television. The network won a bidding war with Fox to land the not-so-long-dormant franchise’s revival, then shelled out heavily to secure judge Katy Perry ($25 million per season) and host Ryan Seacrest ($12 million). Reviving “Idol” became the most intrigue-generating gambit of the 2017-18 broadcast season. How it pays out is about to be seen. The new “American Idol” premieres March 11.

“We are so excited to finally introduce America to the new ‘American Idol’ on ABC,” said Rob Mills, the network’s head of alternative programming. “Our top priority in bringing the series back to the airwaves has been to maintain and showcase the heart and soul that has captured audiences since the franchise’s inception, while sprinkling in some Disney magic like no other company can along the way.”

Where “Idol” will air and who will star have long been settled issues. But several questions still surround the return of a show that ruled for a decade as TV’s most watched.

Is Seacrest a $12 million liability?

ABC landed Perry quickly, then took two months to lock down Seacrest. At the time, his participation seemed essential. But sexual-harassment allegations against him by his former stylist revealed Feb. 26 by Variety have cast a shadow over the host’s endeavors. Appearing on the Oscars red carpet for E! March 4, Seacrest was passed over by A-listers and Time’s Up activists, left to interview personal friends, older actors and fellow Disney-ABC employees.

Twelve of this season’s 19 “Idol” episodes have been taped, eliminating the near-term potential for Seacrest’s off-screen troubles to intrude on-screen. Live episodes begin the week of April 22. But the singing competition’s premiere so soon after the Oscars threatens to reignite controversy around the host, whose presence on the red carpet was criticized by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and argued over vociferously on Twitter.

37 PHOTOS
Original 'American Idol' judges together
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Original 'American Idol' judges together
The Judges, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson at FOX TV's 'American Idol', broadcast live from Television City in Los Angeles, Ca. Tuesday, July 16, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect/FOX*** Please Call For Usage ***
(Left to right) FOX's American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson pse peaceably at the FOX 2002 SummerTCA Tour at the Huntington Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, CA on Monday, July 22, 2002. Photo credit: Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson at 'The Teen Choice Awards 2002' at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Ca. Sunday, August 4, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images/FOX.
Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Justin Guarini, Paula Abdul, and Kelly Clarkson of American Idol backstage at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, August 29, 2002. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.
American Idol Judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson on stage at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, August 29, 2002. Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect.
Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul & Randy Jackson (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul & Simon Cowell during 'American Idol' Season 1 Finale - Results Show - Arrivals at Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 2447 -- Pictured: (l-r) American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell during an interview with host Jay Leno on March 10, 2003 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell during 'American Idol' Season 2 Finale - Results Show at Universal Amphitheatre in Universial City, California, United States. (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/WireImage)
Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 16: 'American Idol' Judges (L-R) Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul during the FOX Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 16, 2004 at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 10: Idol judges Simon Cowell (L), Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson (R) arrive at Fox's celebration of Americn Idols Top 12 finalists at Pearl on March 10, 2004 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson during 'American Idol' Season 3 - Top 12 Finalists Party - Arrivals at Pearl in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Paula Abdul , Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson during The Lucky/Cargo Club - An Upfront Week Hospitality Suite - Day 3 at Le Parker Meridien in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/WireImage)
Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell **EXCLUSIVE** ***Exclusive*** (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
WESTWOOD, CA - APRIL 02: (L-R) Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul of American Idol accept their award for 'Favorite TV Show' onstage at the 18th Annual Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards at the UCLA Pauley Pavillion on April 2nd, 2005 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson during Nickelodeon's 18th Annual Kids Choice Awards - Press Room at Pauley Pavillion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 20: Television host Ryan Seacrest poses with American Idol judges (L-R) Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, after receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 20, 2005 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, judges, with songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, and Ryan Seacrest, host (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/WireImage)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, judges (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/WireImage)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell (Photo by Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES - MAY 24: Idol Judges Randy Jackson (L), Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell (R) pose at the 'American Idol' final performance show at the Kodak Theatre on May 24, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 3077-- Pictured: (l-r) American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul during an interview on January 16, 2006 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) 'American Idol' Season 6 - Judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell *EXCLUSIVE* (Photo by FOX/WireImage for Fox)
Randy Jackson, Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell (Photo by Denise Truscello/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 01: American Idol television personalities (L-R) Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell attend the 24th Annual William S. Paley television festival at the Directors Guild on March 1, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chad Buchanan/Getty Images)
Television personalities Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell arrive at the The 59th Primetime EMMY Awards TV Guide After Party at Les Deux on September 16, 2007 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 06: ***EXCLUSIVE ACCESS*** American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell onstage during elimination from competition on American Idol Top 12 show, March 6, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by R Mickshaw/American Idol 2008/Getty Images for Fox)
HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 06: (L-R) Americian Idol personalities Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell arrive at the taping of Idol Gives Back held at the Kodak Theatre on April 6, 2008 in Hollywood, California. Idol Gives Back will air April 9, 2008 (7:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 11: ***EXCLUSIVE ACCESS*** (L-R) Judge Simon Cowell, judge Randy Jackson with socialite Kim Kardashian, sister Kourtney Kardashian, judge Paula Abdul and Kris Kardashian are seen in audience watching American Idol March 11, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The top 12 contestants perform in front of the American Idol judges on Fox. (Photo by R Mickshaw/American Idol 2008/Getty Images for Fox)
HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 06: (L-R) American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell onstage during the taping of Idol Gives Back held at the Kodak Theatre on April 6, 2008 in Hollywood, California. Idol Gives Back will air April 9, 2008 (7:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 26: (L-R) American Idol Judges Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson attend auditions for 'American Idol' season 8 at Chelsea Piers on August 26, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 3: ***EXCLUSIVE ACCESS*** (L-R) Judges Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell speak on American Idol March 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The third 12 of the top 36 perform in front of the American Idol judges on Fox. (Photo by M Becker/American Idol 2009/Getty Images for Fox)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 07: (L-R) Season 1 judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell speak onstage during FOX's 'American Idol' Finale For The Farewell Season at Dolby Theatre on April 7, 2016 in Hollywood, California. at Dolby Theatre on April 7, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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How big a bite will the competition take?

For eight consecutive seasons, beginning in 2003-4, “Idol” was television’s highest-rated show in the 18-49 demographic. The new iteration will have a high ratings bar to clear to live up to that legacy. The competition won’t help.

The new season kicks off against “The Walking Dead,” still television’s highest-rated entertainment program despite its own ratings woes. The AMC zombie drama’s Feb. 24 midseason premiere drew a 3.6 Nielsen 18-49 rating. In an era of dramatic live-viewership declines across all TV, the “Idol” premiere will be considered a success if it does better than half that. Fox, meanwhile, has scheduled opposite “Idol” a never-seen interview with O.J. Simpson in which the disgraced football star discusses the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Will a new approach work?

Mills calls Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan a “dream panel” of judges, and adds that “their connection was instant and they each bring a wealth of knowledge and unique judging style to the competition.” Perry was indeed a huge get for ABC. But she, like Richie and Bryan, is a series-television neophyte, and her salary makes her primetime’s highest-paid star.

Expect Perry to lead a warmer, more Disney-esque “Idol” than the one spearheaded a decade ago by professional mean spirit Simon Cowell. At the Television Critics Assn.’s winter press tour in January, executive producer Trish Kinane indicated that the new “Idol” would focus far less on the disastrous auditions that were the water-cooler moments of the show’s early years. “It doesn’t feel comfortable to put borderline, unstable people up and laugh at them,” Kinane said.

Will curiosity override format fatigue?

When ABC picked up “Idol” last year, the singing-competition genre had become a television scarcity. That’s not the case now. NBC’s “The Voice” premiered its new season Feb. 26. Fox wrapped the first season of “The Four” Feb. 8. Netflix is developing hip-hop competition “Rhythm & Flow” from John Legend and Jeff Gaspin.

If the new “Idol” establishes itself as a force for ABC, it won’t be because viewers are starved for the format. Rather, it will be because they’re curious about what a new version of “Idol” looks like, and find that it’s well executed and compelling enough to hold their interest through the spring.

25 PHOTOS
'American Idol' Season 4: Then and Now
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'American Idol' Season 4: Then and Now
The 'American Idol' cast gets wild at the Season 4 Top 12 Finalists Party. Some really puzzling fashion choices here -- even for 2005!

Carrie Underwood: THEN

Carrie Underwood: NOW

More than ten years after taking the 'Idol' crown, she's the bonafide queen of country music.

Jessica Sierra: THEN

Jessica Sierra: NOW

After long-fought battles with drug and alcohol abuse, Jessica was eventually sentenced to a year in rehab. She now has a child of her own and speaks to kids about the dangers of substance abuse.

Anwar Robinson: THEN

Anwar Robinson: NOW

The dreads are gone! He's a music educator and creative arts advocate.

Mikalah Gordon: THEN

Mikalah Gordon: NOW

She has a standing gig every night singing at Las Vegas' Cosmopolitan Hotel. A new web series based on her life premieres this year.

Constantine Maroulis: THEN

Constantine Maroulis: NOW

He's snagged a number of leading Broadway roles, including the title role in "Jekyll and Hyde."

Lindsey Cardinale: THEN

Lindsey Cardinale: NOW

She still makes and performs new music.

Anthony Fedorov: THEN

Anthony Fedorov: NOW

How's that for a makeover? He still makes music and is a proud father. 

Nadia Turner: THEN

Nadia Turner: NOW

Gorgeous!

Bo Bice: THEN

Bo Bice: NOW

Pretty crazy transformation! The rocker continues to make music and recently had a string of shows in Hawaii.

Vonzell Solomon: THEN

Vonzell Solomon: NOW

More like va-va-Vonzell!

Scott Savol: THEN

Scott Savol: NOW

He's mostly kept a low profile since the show.

Nikko Smith: THEN

Nikko Smith: NOW

Still killing the stage!

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