"American Idol" returns on Wednesday for an 11th season, facing a new wolf at the door as it tries to retain its place as the No. 1 U.S. TV program -- not so much age, but competition.
Rejuvenated by a judging panel makeover and the discovery of its biggest star in years in country singer Scotty McCreery, the Fox talent show last season saw a four percent increase in audience, reversing a trend that had seen viewership slip.
But that was before NBC launched its surprise 2011 summer hit "The Voice" and Simon Cowell brought his "The X Factor" to Fox in September with outsize hype but underwhelming critical reviews. Each show attracted about half the average 25.2 million viewers who watched "American Idol" in 2011.
Brian Mansfield, who covers "American Idol" for USA Today, said the contest faces more competition this year than ever.
"You are a month away from the end of 'X Factor' and a month away from the beginning of 'The Voice'. And so you do wonder if, even though 'X Factor' was not as big a success as anticipated, if it managed to cannibalize viewers from 'Idol.' And I think that is the big question going in," Mansfield said.