Two new judges and the emergence of a Rossville, Ga., contestant have kept "American Idol" in a must-see TV category for Chattanooga-area viewers.

Judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez may not be like the departed Simon Cowell, who "tells it like it is," according to veteran watchers, but they have injected new interest into the "Idol" franchise.

"I'm starting to like Steven," said Bill Wetzel, a North Chattanooga resident who's watched the show since its inception in 2002.

Meanwhile, since Rossville's Lauren Alaina Suddeth has sung her way into a spot in the competition's upper echelon, the show has gained new watchers such as East Brainerd's Rick Neufeld.

He said her presence and the top-10 appearance of Nashville's Paul McDonald, whose aunt they know and whose mother is a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor, intrigued him and his wife, Julie, enough to tune in.

"I'd love her to win," Neufeld said of Suddeth. "She's obviously the best singer."

American Idol viewership peaked in 2006 by averaging 36 million viewers but slid every year until this year, according to online sources.

This year, the show has averaged 25 million, but that number is 1 percent above the numbers the show had last year at this time, according to the New York Times.

Below, check out the views and opinions of three 10-year watchers and one new to the competition.

"Idol" Fans


  • History: Has watched "American Idol" since Season one (2002).

  • Initial attraction: "It was good, clean family entertainment - nothing morally offensive and no 'Oh my God' language all throughout the show (like we find on all the current sitcoms). Also, my husband and I can enjoy the show together, even though I like gospel and Motown and he likes hard rock and heavy metal."

  • Viewing habits: No specific routines.

  • Favorite winner: Kelly Clarkson (2002). "She is the only one I voted for that actually won."

  • Favorite nonwinner: Clay Aiken (2003). "A future Barry Manilow!"

  • Favorite judge: Simon Cowell (2002-2010). "He told the truth."

  • Pick for this year's winner: Lauren Alaina Suddeth. "She is our hometown girl! We gotta hope!"

  • Favorite 2011 contestant: Jacob Lusk. "I love gospel and Motown, and I think he has the most versatility and vocal range of them all. But my speed-dialing votes will always go for Lauren, our hometown pride."

  • If I could change one thing about the show: "It would be for [host] Ryan Seacrest to quit putting in his two-cents-worth on how the contestants sang. He is not one of the judges, just the announcer."

  • Profession: Episcopal priest.

  • Age: 57.

Johnnie McElvain

  • History: Has watched "American Idol" since: season one (2002).

  • Initial attraction: "I love music."

  • Viewing habits: "I tell all my friends not to call me on Wednesday and Thursday nights because I will not take their calls."

  • Favorite winner: Fantasia Barrino (2004). "She is fantastic, and her songs are still climbing the music charts."

  • Favorite nonwinner: Jennifer Hudson (2004). "She was not a winner on 'American Idol,' but [she is] a winner in my eyes."

  • Favorite judge: Simon Cowell (2002-2010). "He tells it like it is."

  • Favorite 2011 contestants: Jacob Lusk and Scotty McCreery. "I love their style of singing, and the way they carry themselves - by not talking back to the judges - is to be commended."

  • If I could change one thing about the show: "Have more than one save and do more constructive criticizing than praise."

  • Profession: Secretary.

  • Age: 71.


  • History: New to the show this season.

  • Initial attraction: "Like Lauren [Alaina Suddeth] and Paul [McDonald], and we know Paul's aunt."

  • Viewing habits: "We tape it and watch it the next night."

  • Favorite judge: Randy Jackson. "He tells it like it is. He's not afraid to say what the audience doesn't like. The others go along more with what the audience says."

  • Favorite 2011 contestant: Lauren.

  • If I could change one thing about the show: Wouldn't make any changes.

  • Profession: Business owner.

  • Age: 58.


  • History: Watched "American Idol" since season one (2002).

  • Initial attraction: "I have a chance to vote on who I think should win. I have a chance to disagree with the judges. I thought that was kind of cool."

  • Viewing habits: "I have a spreadsheet. When they get down to 10 [contestants], I vote [against] the three that will be in the hot seat. I do the spreadsheet from week to week. I'm usually about 60 to 70 percent the way the nation goes."

  • Favorite winner: Kris Allen (2009). "I don't know if he was a favorite to go all the way. I think he's got a budding career, he's doing a record, he's doing well."

  • Favorite nonwinner: Syesha Mercado (2008). "She came in third. She had a great personality. She's a great singer. I think her career probably [should] be in the theater on Broadway. She's a great actress. We went to see her in Sarasota, Fla., in a benefit for the school system."

  • Favorite judge: Simon Cowell (2002-2010). "I just like his personality, his bluntness. He would tell the singers what was wrong and what was right, and he would be right. I'm starting to like Steven (Tyler, a 2011 judge), too."

  • Favorite 2011 contestant: James Durbin.

  • If I could change one thing about the show: "It would be to not have 10 contestants. Start with seven. [The season] can drag out a little bit."

  • Profession: Retired.

  • Age: 65.