American Idol 9 debuts tonight, but what will X Factor mean for the show’s future?

Tonight, American Idol 9 debuts at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. While it’s the beginning of Ellen DeGeneres’ at least three-season run as a judge, it’s the beginning of the end for Simon Cowell on Idol, who leaves the series at the end of this season.

After Simon announced he’s quitting American Idol for The X Factor yesterday, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told TV critics, “Hopefully it’s a win-win. It’s exciting.” Fox entertainment chair Peter Rice said, “If we can have a show that can replicate the power of Idol in the fall, there’s a big, big reward for us,” though he also insisted the two shows are “different.”

In other words, there’s a big question mark about what having two very similar shows, especially since the biggest star from one will be on the other series.

Here’s my analysis of the most likely scenarios. The most likely, I think, is that this will effectively stop American Idol from being TV’s number-one show, but it will remain strong enough in the ratings to stick around (like CBS’ reality shows have, even though none of them are insane hits), and X Factor will be the same way (like So You Think You Can Dance).

But it’s not impossible to imagine this will destroy Idol and X Factor, as viewers who watch for Simon flee and then flee again once they realize that even though Simon—and probably Paula Abdul—are together again, it lacks the same magic.

More analysis and possible scenarios are here.

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