Ever since The Voice debuted in 2011, it has been in a head-to-head battle with American Idol for the top ratings spot. But now that Idol is back on ABC (and bringing in some impressive talent), the competition is heating up again!
Let’s take a look back through the history of both shows. We’ll dive into how they’ve changed throughout the years to win the ratings war and how successful they have actually been at it.
2002-2011: American Idol Premieres/Dominates
American Idol made its TV debut in June of 2002. The first two seasons started out pretty modestly from a ratings standpoint. But by season 3, it was the number one show on television. The program had hit its stride and finally started to see massive hits coming from season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson.
Well, that trend of being on top continued through season 10, airing in the spring of 2011. From 2004-2011 was the peak of American Idol on television. The Top 12 from each season would tour after to sold-out arenas, multiple winners and contestants had chart-topping hits, and viewers across the country made Idol appointment television. And, up until season 8 the original judging panel was in tact. Season 8 introduced Kara DioGuardi then Ellen DeGeneres was a judge in season 9.
But season 10 saw a complete overthrow of the judging panel. Randy Jackson was the only original member left, with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. This was in anticipation of The Voice premiering with big stars on their panel. And unfortunately, what would end up working so well for the newcomer would backfire for Idol.
2011-2013: The Voice Premieres & Climbs to the Top
Everything changed in 2011, when The Voice premiered to critical acclaim. It was an innovative idea to have the Blind Auditions and the following Battle Rounds also made more exciting television. Plus, The Voice really focused on being positive more than critical, unlike how Idol had positioned itself. By The Voice‘s fourth season, it was basically even with American Idol. A lot of the initial kinks had been worked out and everyone loved the interaction between the coaches, especially Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
So when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler decided to leave Idol in 2013, after two seasons on the show, FOX brought in Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nicki Minaj. That season, season 12, is known as one of the least popular seasons in the show’s history. But it did provide some epic moments between Mariah and Nicki, who notoriously did not like each other. Momentum was finally starting to sway toward The Voice. And The Voice was staying true to what had made it climb to the top since the beginning.
2012-2016: The Voice (Slowly) Kills American Idol
As I mentioned before, focusing on upping the star power on Idol‘s judging panel didn’t work out for them. Because of the quick turnover for their judges, Idol had to sign an almost entirely new panel for season 13. Mariah and Nicki were only on the show for one season after their negative experiences. This time, they brought back Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez, adding in Harry Connick, Jr. This panel seemed to work better, but the ratings had already slipped too far.
Meanwhile, The Voice was continuing to climb. The addition of the Instant Save on Twitter in season 5 gave viewers a reason to make it appointment television. Plus, while the coaches started to shift, the dynamic between them never really changed, since Adam and Blake stayed on for every season. And the new talent they introduced, from Shakira to Usher to Pharrell Williams, was matching the star power of the previous chair-holders.
In season 6 as well, a Knockouts adviser was added to The Voice. The first one was Chris Martin, then he was followed by the likes of Taylor Swift, Reba, Rihanna, and Dolly Parton. The show always took their ideas to the next level. And the talent they were getting was top notch, from the artists to the celebrities making appearances.
Eventually, in 2016, American Idol had its last season on FOX. Ratings were at an all-time low and the show that had once been #1 on television was placing in the 20’s-40’s in the rankings. Ouch. It was time for Idol to let The Voice win this battle. And that it did.
2016-2018: The Voice Dominates, Despite Idol‘s Return
Now that The Voice was the only of the two original singing competition shows left on the air, it continued to receive some of its highest ratings. Even with television viewership down overall, the show was doing well! It consistently placed in the top 10 shows on television, especially during the fall seasons. Bringing in coaches like Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus also helped keep the show relevant. At the same time, they stayed true to the Shevine relationship and overall positivity that viewers had grown to love.
But when American Idol quickly came back on ABC in 2018, The Voice had new competition to go up against. Idol brought in powerhouse judges, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie. The show even had a refreshed new look on the new station. But, most importantly, the talent was finally back. What started to slip in the FOX version of the show in later seasons turned out to be a strength on ABC.
But even last season, the first season of Idol on ABC, the show couldn’t compete with The Voice. Ratings were lower than any season on FOX, despite having capable talent. Idol even marketed their first winner Maddie Poppe super well to break into the music scene. And she has released single after single to keep up this past year! Meanwhile, The Voice winners have continued to not get promoted well, with the exception of Kelly’s recent winners. Still, the ratings haven’t reflected the success of the contestants.
2019: The Voice Tries to Kill Idol Once Again
Now, with American Idol back, The Voice has had to keep up with the momentum Idol is getting. The novelty of the Blind Auditions has worn off and viewers see a new season twice a year, so it’s more difficult to keep it fresh. When American Idol came back on ABC in 2018, The Voice doubled down on their dominance. They had already recruited Jennifer Hudson to be on the coaching panel, but they also signed on Kelly Clarkson. And fans loved both of them!
The Voice is also starting to come at American Idol with earlier voting rounds this year. Historically, fans don’t vote on The Voice until the Top 24ish. But this season, with the addition of the Live Cross-Battles, fans will get to vote a round sooner to compete with Idol viewers. On the flip side though, Idol viewers will be able to vote live nationwide!
But even with everything The Voice is doing, Idol has stayed true to itself so far. They did the Top 40 round in Hawaii, but other than that it’s business as usual. Maybe they’re still trying to hit their stride? Maybe they’re hoping the better talent will convince people to change the channel back to Idol? Either way, it’s clear The Voice sees Idol as a threat and is doing all they can to win the ratings battle. And so far, it’s paying off. The Voice continues to be the top singing talent show on television.