American Idol ratings slip in Season 11 premiere. So what?

American Idol 'only' had 26 million viewers last night, down 17 percent from last year. But how does it stack up against 'The X Factor' or 'The Voice'?

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    American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez reacts as fellow judge Steven Tyler (l.) of Aerosmith makes a joke in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this month.
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Has America reached its TV singing contest saturation point?

Last year saw the debut of two American Idol look-a-likes – "The X Factor" and "The Voice." So, perhaps it's not too surprising that on Wednesday night, American Idol Season 11 opened to an audience that was 17 percent smaller than last year's opening episode, according to Nielsen ratings data.

The two-hour premiere covering American Idol auditions in Savannah, Georgia, was watched by a little more than 26 million people, down from almost 30 million in the 2011 premiere.

Recommended: How much do you know about American Idol? Take our quiz.

Lest anyone feel sorry for FOX –  or start writing the American Idol obituary – that's still a bigger prime-time audience Wednesday night than the combined shows of ABC, CBS, NBC, and the CW – by 47 percent, notes Futon Critic.

And how does American Idol stack up to Simon Cowell's copycat show (also on FOX), The X Factor? 

American Idol is still the reigning  King of the "Reality" TV Songfest.  The X Factor finale – where Melanie Amaro was crowned the victor –  had a mere 12.6 million viewers last month. That's less than half of the American Idol viewership last night. The show garnered "around 10 million votes," according to Mr. Cowell.

NBC's "The Voice," got  11 million votes for its final show.

How does that voting stack up against the Standard Bearer? American Idol's Season 1 finale saw 15.5 million votes cast when Kelly Clarkson won. The number of voters has climbed almost every year since. Last year, when country singer Scotty McCreery won, 122 million votes were cast, reports the Hollywood Reporter.

Wednesday night, American Idol cast the program's longevity in a positive light by showcasing video clips of how the early American Idol episodes have inspired the current crop of contestants to showcase their talent. Still, given the first-night ratings slippage, FOX – and its advertisers – will be certainly watching to see if the new Idol-wannabe programs are successfully siphoning off viewers. Or, if TV audiences are just growing tired of American Idol.

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