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'American Idol' finale lowest viewed ever

Finalists Jessica Sanchez, left, and Phillip Phillips, center,

Finalists Jessica Sanchez, left, and Phillip Phillips, center, listen as host Ryan Seacrest announces the winner onstage at the "American Idol" finale in Los Angeles. (May 23, 2012) (Credit: AP)

"American Idol's" 11th season closed with a fizzle instead of a sizzle -- 21.5 million total viewers, or the lowest season closer ever. This is not good news for Fox -- now grappling with a declining hit -- but even worse for "Idol." Yes, this is still a commanding franchise, but will now forever be compared to the overwhelmingly dominant past, which recedes with each passing season. (Maybe a low water mark like this might even be seen as a blessing; if the show actually tops this finale numer next season -- assuming of course this is the low water mark - then that will be interpreted as a "turnaround.")

This number is still huge, of course, but there seems to be a more dispiriting issue for the show, if Twitter and Facebook are any indication -- an almost corrosive cynicism among viewers this season. It's as if "Idol" is TV's version of a banana republic, with a voting process now considered largely meaningless and largely irrelevant. (Oh, el presidente won again? What a surprise.) It's going to be a tough off-season for both parties as they try to figure out what went wrong and where fixes need to be made.

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