Jeremy Medina
May 01, 2009 AT 11:21 PM EDT

American Idol undoubtedly became the most popular show on TV because of its cross-generational appeal. But a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times says that appeal may be waning with one coveted demographic in particular: younger viewers. 

Though Idol’s ratings are only down ever-so-slightly (a 10% drop from last year), younger viewers seem to be abandoning the show in droves. The median age of an Idol viewer is now 42.9, more than 11 years older than when the show crowned Kelly Clarkson its first winner.

Even more curious, this past Wednesday’s result show netted a slightly higher rating than the Tuesday’s performance episode. When you look at this season’s roster of guests, it’s not hard to spot something of an identity crisis: Lady GaGa (pictured), Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, Miley Cyrus and Flo Rida on one side of the gym; Natalie Cole, Frankie Avalon, Smokey Robinson and Thelma Houston on the other. (Surely these artists appeal to people of all ages, but I implore you to find a teenager who can name a Thelma Houston song, or a 42.9-year-old who knows a GaGa song.) The show has always straddled the line between venerable legends and of-the-moment artists before, but never has it seemed so blatant, or desperate.

So what do these numbers really mean (if anything)? Could it really be that Adam Lambert’s most ardent fans may actually be hordes of mothers who turn flush every time he struts on stage for one of his freak shows, telephone in-hand, ready and waiting to dial on his behalf? (For the record, I mean ‘freak show’ in the best way possible. Really I do.)

The aging Idol viewer could also explain why spunky teenager Allison Iraheta has found a semi-frequent home in the bottom three: younger voters simply do not have her back. They’re not as interested as they were when they texted their hearts out for Jordin Sparks and Carrie Underwood. The show has always imposed an age limit, presumably in an effort to cater to the young folks. Given the show’s aging audience, and the simple fact we live in apost-Susan Boyle world, why not — as my colleague Leah Greenblattsuggested — open up the show up to the over-30?

Time to weigh in, Mixers: Are American Idol’s attempts to stay hip in booking the Kanye’s and GaGa’s of the world enough to gloss over the fact the show still has dated themes like “Disco Night” and “Songs from the Year You Were Born”? What do you think Idol can do to win back younger viewers? Does it need them to stay viable?

More on American Idol from EW’s Music Mix:
Daughtry to debut ‘No Surprise’ on Wednesday’s ‘Idol’
Apples in Stereo frontman talks ‘Idol’ cover, next album
‘American Idol’ and Apples in Stereo: weird-good or weird-bad?
Jason Castro talks about his debut album — and reveals his ‘Idol’ picks
Kelly Clarkson, Mandy Moore and Black Eyed Peas: New videos!
American Idol’s Adam Lambert and Antony Hegarty: Musical kin?

addCredit(“Michael Becker/Fox”)

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