Simon Cowell announced Monday that he is quitting "American Idol" in order to judge the show he created, "The X Factor," when it debuts on Fox in 2011. But how will this impact "American Idol," and how will audiences react to a new but familiar show with a familiar face?
"The X Factor" effectively replaced "Pop Idol" in the United Kingdom. It's extremely popular and is certainly able to generate headlines — just ask Susan Boyle. But it may not be a hit like "American Idol" has been in the United States.
While "X Factor" will be yet another singing competition on network television, there are some notable differences between it and "Idol." Contestants audition — either alone or in groups — in front of an audience, like they do on "America's Got Talent." They can also be any age above a minimum, which Cowell said will likely be 14 or even lower. The most notable difference is that, as Cowell told TV critics, "the judges mentor a selection of contestants" and "the judge is judged as well as the singer."
"X Factor" won't debut until the fall of 2011, after the first Cowell-less season of "American Idol" airs next spring.
With a year to go before the effects are felt, there are still a lot of unknowns at this point: Who will judge "X Factor" along with Cowell? Who will replace him on "Idol"? How will audiences react this season to new judge Ellen DeGeneres? But Cowell's decision to leave "Idol" will undoubtedly impact both shows.
Here are a few of the more likely scenarios.
'Idol' and 'X Factor' get viewers but aren't insane hits
Will Fox be able to draw viewers for not one but two singing competitions a year? One of the (many) reasons for "American Idol's" success is that it airs just once every season, building anticipation and allowing the production team time to cast and produce a high-quality series.
The most likely possibility of having two similar shows on the air every year is that neither will be a massive "Idol"-size hit, but that viewers will watch both enough to keep them around.
This would leave Fox with two successful shows, but not a series that is feared by other networks and seems to be an unstoppable force.
That will happen if some viewers tire more rapidly of the format, while others may divide their loyalty between the two shows. For example, Cowell fans might follow him to "X Factor" and abandon "Idol." Huge "American Idol" fans might stick with it and shun a perceived copycat.
On the other hand, "X Factor" could draw new viewers because of its wider age range for contestants and a new, fresher format, while "American Idol" may add viewers who tune in for Ellen DeGeneres and a possible new fourth judge (who would become the third new fourth judge, incredibly).
'X Factor' becomes the new 'Idol' as 'Idol' fades away
With Cowell off "Idol," the show will have just one of its original judges left — Randy Jackson. It's also a relatively old series, and that it has remained the No. 1 show for so long is impressive and unusual. Being preceded in the television season by a similar show that features its former star may just be what knocks "Idol" from its perch.
The only way this will happen is if "X Factor" duplicates and/or bests all of "Idol's" elements, and that's not going to be easy.
"Idol" is a fascinating combination of things that just work. Consider host Ryan Seacrest: He's smarmy and stupid sometimes, but he's an incredible talent who makes his job seem effortless. But it's not easy, as every awful host of a knock-off "Idol" series has proved.
One possibility that will make this scenario significantly more likely: Paula Abdul may join Cowell as a judge on "X Factor." Cowell said at the Television Critics Association press tour, "I adore Paula. Whatever happens, I will be working with her in some capacity, because I miss her."
That would essentially make a new show far more familiar than an old one.
'Idol' stays strong and 'X Factor' fails to take off
This scenario is hard to imagine, because "Idol" will be changed forever by Cowell's departure, nevermind its age. But those who underestimate TV's biggest show get trampled by it.
'X Factor' tanks and drags 'Idol' down with it
Few shows have been able to duplicate "American Idol's" success, though many have tried. Even Fox tried with "American Juniors," but that didn't work. It's possible that even with Cowell as a draw, viewers may not connect to "X Factor" the way viewers in the U.K. have.
Most likely, a lot of people will tune in for the first few episodes, but some may lose interest if they expect that Cowell on Fox means the same-old "American Idol."
As for "Idol," with only Jackson left as the original judge and considering the show's general age, it may be enough to turn off loyal viewers. That's especially true if "Idol" fails to find talent like Kris Allen, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta.
One thing is for sure: Next spring, "American Idol" cannot afford to have a weak season.