American Idol 7 debuts tonight

Tonight at 8, The CW repeats the first episode of Reaper, ABC airs new episodes of its hidden camera series Just for Laughs, CBS will air a new NCIS, and NBC runs with a new episode of The Biggest Loser 5. Oh, and FOX debuts American Idol 7 at 8 p.m. ET, and I think I’m supposed to say something about it “crushing the competition” and being “highly anticipated” especially due to the writers’ strike.

The truth is, the series is coming off its weakest season yet, one that left tour venues empty and extra copies of the winner’s debut CD. Even the producers acknowledge last season’s weakness and have made minor changes as a result, such as allowing people to audition with instruments and including more personal stories.

So, has the show passed its peak, destined to be a popular series but no longer a phenomenon? Or did it just have a bad year? I think it’s the former, and while the writers’ strike could impact the show, other network have always moved their most compelling shows out of the way of Idol, so it’s not like the show suddenly lacks timeslot competition for the first time.

There’s one group of people salivating all over themselves for the debut, and that’s the media. Even those who can’t stand the show (ahem) know that writing about it is like offering cocaine to a fetus. As a result, most journalists have either drunk the optimism Kool-Aid or are just doing what they can to feed from the trough. Many of the many pieces written in advance of the new season repeat the same information, especially quotations from executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who has spent the past few months saying exactly the same thing to any reporter who wants to hear it.

Here’s a round-up of the coverage on the new season, listed in order of decreasing optimism about this season:

‘American Idol’ is still a winner [Los Angeles Times]
‘American Idol’ headed for high ratings [New York Daily News]
It’s Fox’s ‘Idol’ to the rescue [Variety]
“American Idol” is secret weapon for Fox [Bloomberg News]
The Return of ‘Idol,’ Confident in Season 7 [The New York Times]
3-headed monster of ratings: “American Idol” is back [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
‘Idol’ rescues TV [Lansing State Journal]
‘American Idol’ juggernaut is no better — and no less popular [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
“Idol” dilemma — ratings up, sales down [Billboard]
‘American Idol’ changes tune for 7th season [Newsday]
‘American Idol’ tries to get groove back [Gannett News]
TV’s ‘American Idol’ promises to polish its tarnished crown [Miami Herald]
‘American Idol’ returns with high hopes after last year’s mistakes [Canadian Press]
‘American Idol’ looks to rebound [Orlando Sentinel]
‘American Idol’ Is Dead! Long Live ‘American Idol’! [Washington Post]
7 ways to make ‘Idol’ more bearable [Chicago Tribune]
Is ‘Idol’ losing its luster? Cowell argues otherwise [Mercury News]
Is ‘Idol’ still a hitmaker? [Chicago Tribune]
Fallen ‘Idol’ [Detroit News]
Nowhere to go but down for false ‘Idol’ [MSNBC]
If an American Idol Falls in the Woods, Does It Make a Sound? [Radar]