‘Idol’ No. 1 … And Not

When "American Idol" came down to beat-boxin’ Blake Lewis and cute teenybopper Jordin Sparks, America cared, but not enough to match last year’s final show.

The hour-long finale May 23rd brought in 30.7 million viewers, a sharp decline from the 36.4 million people who watched Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee battle for top dog the previous year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"The competition down at the end didn’t have the excitement that it had in years past," said Tim Brooks, author of "The Complete Directory to Prime-Time Network and Cable Television." "It’s kind of a rehash to viewers."

Although the Fox singing competition was still TV’s most popular program this season and will likely bring in the most viewers next year as well, industry observers said the 2006 season will probably be the peak for audience interest.

Ratings for this season were pulling ahead of last year’s for the first half of the season until, among other factors, Votefortheworst.com favorite Sanjaya Malakar was kicked off.

The decline in finale viewers for 2007 is blamed on a dull Top 10, a general cynicism among viewers this spring and the simple laws of TV gravity.

"People are getting tired of it," said Marc Berman, an analyst for Media Week Online. "I know I am."

Fox executives remain optimistic about this season’s ratings and the future of "Idol." Fox’s Scott Grogin asserted that ratings will only be slightly down or even identical to last year when DVR viewing is taken into account. Grogin also said that next year’s show brings a whole new pool of contestants along with a possible increased interest in the show.

When "Idol" begins again in January, executives will look at 2003 as the year to beat as the finale attracted 38 million viewers. The finale for 2005 captured 30.3 million viewers and 28.8 million in 2004.

Fox execs can take solace in the final week’s viewership, which was first and second on the Nielsen rankings, but for once there was competition. ABC’s "Dancing With The Stars" wasn’t far behind at 23 million viewers for its May 22nd finale. Likewise, the finales of "Lost" and "Heroes" had respectable numbers, too, ranking sixth and eighth.

While Sanjaya may not have won the competition, fans of the curly haired teen can catch him, along with the rest of the Top 10 finalists, on the "American Idols Live" tour.

The sixth edition of the tour hits arenas across the country July 6th through September 22nd.