New judges hope for American Idol

Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News: Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj from American Idol attend the Fox Winter TCA Tour (AP) Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj from American Idol attend the Fox Winter TCA Tour (AP)

American Idol is facing a 36 million dollar-plus question: Will that combined paycheck lavished on superstar judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban pay off in ratings?

The newcomers have their work cut out for them whether they earn it with colourful feuding or by discovering a singer who can charm America.

The talent show, a TV groundbreaker when it debuted in 2002 despite a starless panel with Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, needs every edge as its audience erodes and other contests emerge as challengers.

"I think it's actually a renewal (of Idol) every couple of years, and what you're seeing now is this panel has reinvigorated the show," said Mike Darnell, Fox president of alternative entertainment.

NBC's The Voice, one of the newcomers, enjoyed immediate success with brand-name panelists Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine. But famous faces don't guarantee a return, as Cowell's "The X Factor" most recently proved.

Britney Spears, whose lacklustre performance failed to capitalise on buzz about her intriguing foray into live TV, split from the show last week. It was a 15 million dollar lesson for all interested parties.

But American Idol, returning Wednesday (8pm EST) with host Ryan Seacrest, has to make noise as it hits relative old age for a TV series, with its ratings still hefty but on a steady downward spiral.

Last season, Idol lost its status as the most-watched TV programme for the first time since 2003, eclipsed by NBC's Sunday Night Football, and pegged its lowest-rated season since it debuted in summer 2002.

An open-wallet approach worked for Idol before, with Jennifer Lopez validating her 12 million dollar paycheck by helping (with Steven Tyler) to boost the show's ratings in 2011. That allowed Ellen DeGeneres' short-lived and genially unimpressive judging stint that ended in 2010 to fade into memory.

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