Did Ellen DeGeneres Just Drive Another Nail Into the Coffin of the 'Idol' Era?

Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week

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Some notes about, and context for, the latest weekly Trendrr chart, a collaboration between Advertising Age and social-media tracking service Trendrr Pro:

  • Remember when "American Idol" seemed unstoppable? It's still huge, of course, but ... markedly less huge than it was even last year. Both its ratings and its cultural resonance have been sinking fast. As Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik wrote in a blog post published this morning, "Wednesday night's 'American Idol' felt more like a wake than a finale -- a wake for what was once a vital, dominant force in popular culture." It remains to be seen how the Wednesday show did in the ratings , but preliminary ratings for Tuesday's "performance finale" -- which pit the last two finalists, Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox, against each other -- were down 14.7% compared to last year's Kris Allen vs. Adam Lambert face-off. That represents a performance-finale loss of more than 3 million viewers year over year.
  • From May 20 to today (so far), "Idol," including the hashtag #idol (standard Twitter shorthand for "American Idol") was name-checked in an average of 1,630 Twitter posts her hour. In one peak hour last night, 30,138 tweets mentioned "Idol."
  • By comparison, Fox's "Glee" averaged 1,745 Twitter posts per hour May 20 to today (so far), with a one-hour peak last night of 27,384 tweets.
  • 'American Idol' season nine winner, Lee DeWyze.
    'American Idol' season nine winner, Lee DeWyze. Credit: Fox
  • Crystal Bowersox was name-checked in 1,307 Twitter posts in one peak hour Tuesday night (the night of her final performance), with just "Crystal" scoring 3,616 tweets. Her opponent Lee DeWyze had a one-hour peak that same night of 2,249 tweets, with just "Lee" scoring 9,730 tweets. If you were monitoring Twitter, you could pretty much see DeWyze's victory last night coming.
  • But wait, stop the presses! The really interesting news in pop culture this week had nothing to do with "Idol" or Crystal or Lee. Tuesday afternoon, Ellen DeGeneres tweeted about Greyson Chance: "I was so inspired by @GreysonChance that I started my own record label called eleveneleven & Im making a record w/Greyson." Greyson, a total unknown a month ago, catapulted to fame when DeGeneres plucked him off of YouTube (where he can be seen delivering a truly awesome cover of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" at a school talent contest) and put him on her show. (Here's the complete, rather fascinating, back story, including links to various of his performance videos, along with his first appearance on "Ellen.") Over the past couple of days I noticed multiple instances when "Greyson" and "Lee Dewyze" were Top 10 Twitter trending topics, but "Crystal Bowersox" (or just "Crystal") was M.I.A. In other words, a 12-year-old boy who's been on TV exactly twice (DeGeneres brought him back on her show yesterday to make the formal announcement of his signing) -- and now has 30+ million views of his performance videos on YouTube -- has had more Twitter buzz lately than one of the two "Idol" finalists who's been on TV week after week for months.
  • DeGeneres is, of course, not only a talk-show host, but served as a judge this season on "Idol." So what we have here is a show whose iconic chief judge, Simon Cowell, just departed, and whose newest judge, Ellen DeGeneres, seemed to be way more interested, during finale week, in cultivating her own star-making powers, which have nothing to do with "Idol." At this moment, it seems entirely possible that Greyson Chance could become a bigger pop star than either Crystal Bowersox or Lee DeWyze. Really, Crystal and Lee's painstaking rise to fame via "American Idol" seems positively glacial compared to Greyson's astonishing trajectory. The subtext and timing of Ellen's announcement about Greyson suggests a new paradigm for overnight-fame creation that makes "American Idol" seem like a pop-cultural antique.

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Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week is produced in collaboration with Wiredset, the New York digital agency behind Trendrr, a social- and digital-media tracking service, and Curatorr, a social media filtering and publishing platform. More background here. Trendrr offers a free trial account; Trendrr Pro, which offers more robust tracking and reporting tools, comes in various paid flavors (get the details here).

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco. The latest Ad Age Insights white paper is titled "Dumenco's State of the Media Report," and subtitled "From social media to search, print, broadcast and beyond, where ad-supported media stands now and where it's going." It's available right here.

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