By James Hibberd
January 18, 2013 at 04:41 PM EST

The second night of Fox’s 12th season of American Idol showed a sign of improvement for the reality veteran.

Make no mistake, Thursday’s Idol was lower rated than the premiere — that’s standard, especially since the show shifted to a Wednesday-Thursday pattern a couple years back. But instead of dropping 19 percent year over year like the first episode, Night 2 was down only 2 percent — a mere tenth of a point — from 2012. And even that gap could get erased when the final national ratings come in later.

In other words: Whether you love or hate the addition of Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj, more viewers stuck with the show this season after checking out the first episode. During the last couple years, Idol ratings dropped at least 20 percent between the show’s first two nights; this time the decline was only 7 percent. In fact, looking at the chart below, this the first time Night 2 hasn’t dropped significantly year over year since Idol‘s ratings plunge began in 2008. The two-hour telecast delivered 16.2 million viewers and a 5.6 rating among adults 18-49. Maybe Fox’s reality chief Mike Darnell was onto something when he told us yesterday that the judging panel was generating helpful buzz.

A tougher test will come when CBS resumes airing original episodes of its powerful Thursday lineup (CBS ran repeats last night). The Big Bang Theory is pulling down larger numbers lately than last night’s Idol performance and seems likely to win the night outright in the coming weeks.

Also Thursday: ABC was once again hit across the board by Idol, all shows dropping 7-17 percent. The return of The CW’s Vampire Diaries had its best numbers in a couple months (followed by a repeat of The Carrie Diaries pilot which came precariously close to tying its low-rated premiere). In fact, Vampire Diaries beat NBC’s 30 Rock and 1600 Penn in the demo. NBC’s comedy block was down — except Parks & Recreation, which jumped up from its last telecast six weeks ago.

Check out Annie Barrett’s Idol recap here.

Idol Night 2 history:

1/19/12 …THUR… 18018  5.7
1/20/11 …THUR… 22914  7.8
1/13/10 ..WED 26416  10.1
1/14/09 ..WED…. 30343  11.8
1/16/2008 ..WED…. 30458  12.6
1/17/2007 ..WED… 36946  15.5
1/18/2006 ..WED…. 31648  13.0
1/19/2005 ..WED… 26800  11.3
1/20/2004 .TUE….. 28626  12.6
1/22/03 ..WED…. 25019  11.8

Last night full chart:

FOX 8-10P AMERICAN IDOL P #1 5.6 16,185
ABC 8-9P LAST RESORT #14 1.0 5,010
9-10P GREY ANATOMY #3 2.9 8,675
10-11P SCANDAL #4 2.6 7,949
CBS 8:00P BIG BANG R #2 3.3 11,896
8:30P TWO&HALF MEN R #5 2.4 9,132
9-10P PERSON INTEREST R #8 1.6 9,364
10-11P ELEMENTAR R #9t 1.4 7,049
NBC 8:00P 30 ROCK #11 1.3 3,496
8:30P PARK & REC #7 1.9 3,888
9:00P OFFICE #6 2.1 4,152
9:30P 1600 PENN #12t 1.2 3,040
10-11P ROCK WILLIAMS #12t 1.2 4,383
CW 8-9P VAMPIRE DIARIES #9t 1.4 2,909
9-10P CARRIE DIARIES RS #15 0.5 1,154