‘Idol’ Train Slowing Down?

The top 10 "American Idol" contestants will visit more than 50 cities in the television show’s annual tour, beginning in July. The tour comes at a time when the show’s ratings appear to be dropping – from stratospheric to merely tremendous.

"American Idol" still squashes the competition and can fill two of the 10 slots for top-rated shows each week. There’s little doubt the tour will be successful, as it always is.

Yet, an April 21st Los Angeles Times column said Nielsen Research Media ratings for Fox’s cash cow slipped 7 percent to 29.2 million the second week of April compared to last year. The report also said ‘Idol" has lost one-fifth of female viewers in the 18 to 34 age group and is comparably down among kids 2 to 11 – supposedly a sure sign a program is getting old.

The "Idol Gives Back" charity event, run as a stand-alone show this year with no competition segments, reportedly had lower ratings as well, the Times said.

"Idol" judge Simon Cowell told Variety the ratings drop is related to the current crop of contestants.

"Personality," Cowell said. "They are giving very safe answers to questions, making safe song selections. We are not getting a sense of who they are. We have to try and pull it out of them more."

Fox execs told the Times that although all networks suffered during the recent writers’ strike, "Idol" is beating the odds. But one exec did say the lower ratings could be the usual slump any hit show experiences in its seventh season.

"It would be great if the ratings would stay in the high 20s or low 30s," executive producer Ken Warwick told the Times. "But everything has a sell-by date. Everything."

Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman told the paper that producers and execs will discuss what works and doesn’t work at season’s end as usual.

"We have to think about how it’s presented," Beckman said. "These are questions you naturally ask when a show is in its seventh year."