For this review, the word "formula" will be a recurring theme.
I didn't start watching American Idol when it first came out, but rather during season 4 or 5. Whichever one came before the Taylor person won.
The show started with a formula: hold contests where average people sing pop music for three judges and the ones who sing best compete over who can sing better, ultimately decided by popular sovereignty. There's the Nice judge who loves everyone and chooses everyone to go through, the Mean judge who hates everyone and chooses everyone to fail, unless they sing good, and the Nice judge who occasionally goes in between.
I was shocked to see that the series only had a 4.9 out of 10 rating on IMDb as of January 2010. Some of the complaints I see regard individual episodes or individual seasons or a generic indictment of reality TV in general.
American Idol has had a formula for a long time in the audition stage, where performances are heavily edited, and entire clip segments are made of people's sudden successes or failures. The only ones given a full showing are the ones that are noteworthy for their success or failure.
The biggest problem and part of the biggest downfall is this formula has remained unchanged for years. It gets to a point where you know EXACTLY who will go through to the next round and who will not. The most clear indication: Those who will go through are typical normal, average, usually pretty people, and almost always have some sort of horror story, like "I beat cancer", "My son has autism", "My mom died in a car accident", "I'm a hemophiliac", "My sister raped me", whatever.
Meanwhile, the ones who will clearly NOT go through are given either no video package, or a thoroughly derisive, mocking one complete with light-hearted, dopey music, and copious sound effects.
In fact, I absolutely cannot fault the series for its vocal preferences---the heavy metal singer or the opera singer will not go through because this is NOT a general singing competition. It's a search for a pop singer. It's not clear from the title or subtitle, but the style, the subject matter, nearly ten years of showing, it's a POP STAR COMPETITION.
Despite that, there are very rare instances where a serious bias is shown. Sure, they don't reject people for being fat or ugly, though the people who go through are very rarely fat or ugly, and very rarely are they in any way UNIQUE. Everyone sounds exactly the same at some point. Maybe it's just the human vocal chords, or the style or genre of pop music, but the people with unique voices are either undisplayed, or outright rejected. The only examples that come to mind immediately are a fat girl who sang a gorgeous rendition of the theme to The Phantom of the Opera, but she was flat-out rejected because her style "wasn't right". She looked like a Hot Topic shopper, and her voice was operatic, but this is a POP STAR COMPETITION. Still, "The Phantom of the Opera" isn't a real opera, so to speak---she could very well still go through the competition, an American Idol in the style of Andrea Bocelli.
It's gotten so formulaic that there's no longer any reason to watch the first 1/3rd of the season for anything other than entertainment---you watch it for the same reason you watch "To Catch a Predator" or "Candid Camera" or Borat or Da Ali G Show---you have a sick urge to see people fail spectacularly, or make asses of themselves in some way.
No one cares about the talented people anymore. The show picks and chooses only the prettiest, most plain, ordinary, generic, and commercial contestants can win---are even DISPLAYED, as there are dozens of people who make it up to the second and third rounds without EVER seeing camera time beyond split-second cameos.
Indeed, there's many people who watch it and care about these generic hacks for the music, but look back and name me American Idol winners. There's Clay Aiken or so... Kelly something, Justin Guarini, Fantasia, Taylor Hicks, and I literally can't remember anyone else.
Now, name me an American Idol winner who was SUCCESSFUL even today. That is, WINNER, not CONTESTANT WHO WAS ELIMINATED. Ruben Studdard, Katharine McPhee, etcetera.
Every year, the show gets more and more predictable, and the contestants get more and more bland, ordinary, and boring.
It's been a steady state of entropy for the show, and considering how awful the contestants have been as of late, them being too damn CHEAP to keep Paula Abdul was an executive move of just plain bad judgment. And now Simon Cowell is leaving after this season.
The show is over, or getting close to it.