Fox show's 11th-season finale draws 21.5 million viewers

It’s says something about the enduring strength of Fox’s “American Idol” that its finale could tumble 30% from last year yet still rate as television’s top telecast since the Oscars.

Although it delivered its lowest-rated finale to date, the show rallied in its 11th season closer on Wednesday. Nielsen estimates that the 127-minute finale averaged a 6.4 rating/18 share in adults 18-49 and 21.49 million viewers overall. In the final seven minutes, during which 21-year-old Phillip Phillips from Georgia was crowned the winner, “Idol” peaked with a 9.0/24 in the demo and 29.4 million viewers overall.This left “Idol” down 30% in the demo (from 9.2/26) and 27% in total viewers (29.29m) from last year. Still, from 8 to 10 p.m., “Idol” beat the combined averages of ABC, CBS and NBC in both 18-49 (6.2 to 5.4) and total viewers (21.1 million to 17.3 million).

The “Idol” finale came in considerably higher than the recent conclusion of NBC’s second season of “The Voice” (4.4/12 in 18-49, 11.93m) as well as the 14th-season finale of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” (3.3/9, 17.75m) and December’s conclusion of “The X Factor” (3.8/11, 12.59m). No entertainment program has rated higher than the “Idol” finale in either 18-49 or total viewers since ABC’s telecast of the Academy Awards in late February.

For the season, “Idol” will similarly finish down about 30% from last year but once again stand as TV’s No. 1 entertainment series in 18-49 (slightly ahead of NBC’s “The Voice”) and total viewers (a bit ahead of CBS’ “NCIS”).

The singing competish arena has become increasingly crowded. This broadcast season saw four such shows (“Idol,” “The Sing Off” and newcomers “The X Factor” and “The Voice”), and the glut likely contributed to some viewer fatigue. (ABC isn’t even waiting 24 hours to jump in with its own entry, launching “Duets” on Thursday night.)

This year’s “Idol” declines, while larger than just about anybody saw coming, are steeper in part because the show saw something of a renaissance last year when it added judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.

Looking only at its two-hour finales, since “Idol” wrapped in 2003 with a 14.2/36 in the demo, it declined every year through 2010 (8.2/24). It then showed its first year-over-year improvement a year ago (9.2/26) before dropping to 6.4/18 on Wednesday. This year’s finale is down 22% from two years ago.

Also of note on Wednesday, ABC posted its strongest season-ending numbers in five years thanks in large part to potent 10 p.m. rookie drama “Revenge” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 7.86m), which logged its best scores since mid-winter and was the No. 1 series in its hour. All of the net’s shows improved week to week, including 9:30 p.m. laffer “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23″ (2.4/6, 5.60m).

Anchor comedy “Modern Family” (4.1/11, 10.07m) was the night’s top scripted show, down a tick from last year, while “The Middle” at 8 p.m. (2.0/7, 6.52m) was down 9%.

Univision moved up to No. 3 on the night in 18-49 and No. 2 to Fox in adults 18-34 thanks to the strong two-hour finale of “Una Familia Con Suerte” (A Fortunate Family), which averaged a 2.5/7 in 18-49 and 6.06 million viewers overall. It fared even better in 18-34 (2.9/10) — making it the No. 3 series on the night behind “Idol” and “Modern Family.”

Wednesday’s action wrapped the 2011-12 season, in which Fox finished on top in 18-49 for an eighth straight season while CBS pulled closer and won outright in both adults 25-54 and total viewers (Daily Variety, May 23). NBC appears to have edged out ABC for third; there’s still a chance the Alphabet could round up to a 2.5 and earn a tie, but that won’t be known until all full-week DVR data has been tabulated in mid-June.

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