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American Idol historians, unite!...uh, once we get this software working, that is.

According to the pundits, American Idol is on its last legs.  Again.  This time, the presumptive cause of death is The Voice, NBC's blatant rip-o–...er, heh-heh, we mean "variation" on the familiar Idol singing-cum-elimination theme.  The boffo ratings for The Voice's season premiere last weekend, combined with some rather lackluster audition episodes thus far from AI, have many industry analysts tittering and tweeting that the king of American television for the past decade is finally about to be dethroned.

Well, maybe.

We don't put too much stock in those initial Nielsen numbers.  Fact is, The Voice debuted immediately after the Super Bowl, and not just any Super Bowl either: the Giants-Patriots instant classic was the highest-watched show in American television history.  To put things in perspective, the L.A. Times put together a Best & Worst List of Post-Super Bowl TV shows, and you'll soon see that pulling in 30+ million viewers in that coveted slot is not exactly a Bob Beamon-esque feat.  (In fairness though, it also doesn't hurt that The Voice, unlike AI, doesn't waste a full month on ineffably dull, freak-laden, suspense-free audition shows, even if those silly rotating chairs are something between annoying and pompous.  Alas, 2012 marks roughly the two trillionth year running that 19E ignored our plaintive Start The Season In Hollywood Already, You Knuckleheads! plea.  Maybe 2013 will be the charm.)

At any rate, we'll have to wait at least a month before we learn whether The Voice has really supplanted American Idol among U.S. TV viewers.  Either way, we'd venture to say that AI remains in a steady decline.  That's not intended as a criticism:  the show has been a ratings stud for Fox for ten consecutive years.  Even if it's not #1 here in Season Eleven, it'll still surely pull in big numbers.  That's simply astounding, particularly when one considers the number of self-inflicted wounds it's managed to survive.  Like many fans, we thought that the disastrous Season Nine was game, set and match for the franchise.  But the return of Nigel Lythgoe, a revamped judging panel, and a re-emphasis on talent over drama (duh!) somehow pulled it back from the brink in Season Ten.

But yes, bank on it: AI's Nielsen numbers will drop another ten percent or so this year.  The Voice will come nowhere close to holding on to its post-Super Bowl audience.  Dancing With The Stars still retains plenty of loyal viewers.  Simon Cowell's much-hyped The X-Factor was something between a disappointment and a fiasco.  (Ahem: we told you so.)  All of the other talent show wannabes out there will have their moment in the sun, but none will have staying power.  The bottom line is that the format that Pop Idol pioneered 15 years ago is slowly becoming played out.

And, there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it's perfectly natural.  We think American Idol might still live on for many years, comfortably in the Top Ten but never again approaching the peak viewership of its glory years.  The show was and still is a marvel, one that future generations will look back upon in awe and wonder.  Cable TV, streaming movies, the Internet: even in the teeth of all those rising forces, AI drew viewership numbers straight out of the days of three VHF channels and rabbit ears.  No doubt they'll scratch their heads and wonder how on earth it all came to be.

And that's where we come in.  "We" meaning all of us -- WNTS readers and editors alike.

For the past few years, we've frequently discussed turning WhatNotToSing.com into a wiki.  We want to tell the complete story about the Idol phenomenon: all of the seasons, the contestants, the episodes, the songs and artists, the judges, the performances...all of it, from start to finish.  On each of our database pages where you see that ubiquitous, rotating-chair-annoyance-level message, "No article has been written yet...", we want to replace it with, duh, an article.  Written by you and your fellow contemporary American Idol fans.

Our goal is to provide end-to-end documentation about AI.  What exactly this entails is an open question, so good suggestions are welcome.  However, if done properly and with just the right balance of reverence and good-natured snark – because, let's face it, AI deserves both – we think the wiki will live on long after the show has passed on to that great triple-digit rerun station in the cable sky.

We do have a few ideas ourselves.  We want the wiki to be more or less opinion-free, objective, and definitely free of gossip and fanboy/fangirl ravings.  Just the facts, ma'am.  Despite our longstanding policy, we'd like to include a few images and videos from the show in the articles, but that of course is not our decision to make – it's up to Fox, Fremantle and 19E, whom we'll approach at the appropriate time.  We wouldn't mind including stories and behind-the-scenes insights from the contestants themselves, provided they are free to discuss such matters openly (and from what we know of Idol's hydrophobic lawyers, they probably aren't.)  And as we said earlier, we're open to suggestions.

The one thing we're quite firm on: if and when we finally get this running, it will not be an open-edit wiki, a la Wikipedia.  Anyone will be able to read the articles, but before you edit anything, you'll need to sign up for an account.  And in the process, we'll make you swear up, down and sideways that you're here to document the history of AI objectively, not to grind any old axes or fulfill some private agenda.  We have no intention of putting in all this work just so you can have a soapbox to rant that, say, Melinda Doolittle should have won Season Six in a cakewalk (even if we do happen to agree with you.)

Making the wiki a reality is perhaps a bit more work than we bargained for.  We essentially have two ways to go.  One is to use an open-source wiki application and customize/integrate it so that each page shows the WNTS database numbers and tables.  The other is to write some basic editing (and account management) software ourselves within our current site.  Right now we're pursuing the former option because we think it's best in the long run (ScrewTurn Wiki, if you're interested.)  It might be another month before we know whether or not it's feasible, so stay tuned.

Odds are, Project Wiki will be a season-long endeavor.  This might be the last formal editorial you see from us for quite a while, but we'll keep you abreast of our progress on the top of the home page.  We hope you agree that it's a worthwhile goal.  We also hope you agree that The Voice's rotating chairs are silly.  Maybe we'll set up a wiki page to discuss that.

- The WNTS.com Team

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