It’s definitely the beginning of the end for American Idol. After spending the last nine TV seasons as the most-watched show on television, the singing competition is suffering a giant ratings loss this season, while NBC’s up-and-coming The Voice is taking over.

Wednesday night’s episode of American Idol, where part of the Top 24 was revealed, averaged about 15.9 million viewers over its two hours according to early numbers, though the final numbers may be a bit higher. That’s down nearly three million viewers from last week and is way down from past seasons. But worst of all for FOX, it’s also worse than this week’s episode of The Voice.

The Voice‘s fourth blind auditions episode was watched by 16.04 million viewers, narrowly beating Idol’s number for this week. Not counting its post-Super Bowl episodes, The Voice last lost to American Idol each of its first three weeks this season, but now the tide has turned.

The bad news keeps coming for American Idol when you compare its ratings so far this season to the past. Just looking at audition and Hollywood round episodes, American Idol season 11’s average is down almost 5 million viewers per episode against last year, which was already the lowest it had ever been.

To see the decline of American Idol, here’s a look at the ratings averages for the audition and Hollywood episodes for each season. I left off the first season because there was only one audition episode and one Hollywood episode. As you can see, the ratings have been going down since season 6, but they’ve never dropped this severely.

American Idol Audition and Hollywood Round Episode Averages

Season 11: 18.43 million
Season 10: 23.32 million
Season 9: 25.01 million
Season 8: 26.34 million
Season 7: 28.29 million
Season 6: 32.77 million
Season 5: 31.08 million
Season 4: 27.8 million
Season 3: 28.11 million
Season 2: 25.02 million

The reason for these lower ratings seems obvious: oversaturation of singing competitions. American Idol has always been special because it comes once a year, but thanks to FOX’s decision to air The X Factor in the fall, a singing show just isn’t as big since another one is always right around the corner.

The other problem is the The Voice. NBC’s rival show is very strong in the ratings. In fact, since The Voice premiered, American Idol episodes have been down more than 2 million viewers. Obviously TV isn’t big enough for the both of them.

What does this mean? Well, the ratings are still stronger than anything else FOX has, so American Idol will likely stay around for another season or two. But FOX is going to need to find a way to stop this ratings freefall, otherwise the original singing competition will be dead in the not-so-distant future.

(Image courtesy of FOX, NBC)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.