No. 7: American Idol

When Simon Cowell left “American Idol” in 2010 — after what was widely considered to be the show’s worst season ever, generating relatively low record sales for winner Lee DeWyze and runner-up Crystal Bowersox — many punters assumed the show was doomed. Cowell himself may have counted on the show failing without him, when he proclaimed that his new venture with old “Idol” crony Paula Abdul, “The X Factor,” would garner “Idol”-esque ratings of 20 million or more. (Turns out he was about 9 million off.)

Too many changes kept the Fox reality singing competition from being the same show we knew and loved: two new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, replacing Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi; an in-house mentor and music producer, Jimmy Iovine; a new record-label affiliation (Iovine’s Universal Records); a new time slot; lightning-round semifinals eliminations; even a lower age limit.

This was “American Idol”?

Season 10, thriving
Somehow, “Idol” didn’t just survive; it thrived. The show’s rebound in 2011 may have been boosted by the return of executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who had helmed the show during its glory years before leaving in 2008. Everyone involved experienced a career resurgence. J.Lo, whose career had been in semi-freefall after she was dropped from Sony Music, became a superstar again with top 10 hits and a new title: People’s Most Beautiful Woman. Tyler became America’s unlikely new sweetheart, with a hot-selling autobiography; a solo single featuring Nicole Scherzinger; and his expletive-riddled one-liners about little devils, paint chips, and unspeakable acts with waterfowl becoming national catchphrases.

But still, the real stars of Season 10 weren’t the judges or producers; they were the contestants. The top 10 were a diverse and talented bunch, and five of them — winner Scotty McCreery, runner-up Lauren Alaina, third-place dark horse Haley Reinhart, fourth-place rocker James Durbin, and pop diva Pia Toscano — landed record deals.  McCreery’s debut album in October broke all sorts of country-music sales records, proving that “Idol” was far from a fading franchise and could still produce bona fide stars. Alaina also fared well, debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard chart. Durbin’s first album came out the same day as his predecessor Chris Daughtry’s third, and Reinhart placated impatient fans with an adorable “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Christmas duet with her memorable “Moanin'” duet partner, Casey Abrams.

Too warm and fuzzy
Of course, Season 10 was far from perfect. Many viewers griped that the judges were toothless pushovers, telling the contestants they were “beautiful” and “in it to win it” when what they really needed was candid, constructive criticism. The season was packed with unjust eliminations — Abrams, Durbin, and powerhouse Toscano, in ninth place — that had viewers crying foul, tossing accusations of vote tampering and complaining that voters were biased against female contestants.

But no “Idol” season is complete without juicy scandals and shockers. In every way, Season 10 delivered in spades.

When not serving as managing editor for Yahoo! Music or penning L.A. Woman, a column on Los Angeles nightlife for NME.com, veteran music journalist Lyndsey Parker spends much of her free time compulsively watching reality television. Her Yahoo! column, Reality Rocks, is one of the most popular “American Idol” blogs on the Web. A die-hard music and pop-culture freak, former fanzine editor, “Rock & Roll Jeopardy” contestant, ex-child actress, and voracious pop-culture vulture, Lyndsey lives in Hollywood with her pet snake, piles of records, and a ’70s television set that is always, always on.

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