Fox's "American Idol," the nation's most popular program, proved its mettle once again Tuesday by beating out a strong field of competitors that included finales for ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and a pair of highly rated CBS dramas.
The season's penultimate episode of "Idol," in which contestants Adam Lambert and Kris Allen duked it out for the final time, delivered 23.7 million viewers overall, and a night-leading 8.5 national rating and a 24 share among adults 18 to 49, according to preliminary data released from Nielsen Media Research. While enough to win the night, the tally still ranked as "Idol's" lowest haul for the second-to-last episode since the series' debut in 2002.
About 20.1 million viewers overall (5.1/14 in 18-49) tuned in to see Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson win the eighth season of "Dancing With the Stars." The two-hour finale built 15% during its second leg, peaking at 21.6 million. The viewership virtually matched those for its Season 7 finale in November, which garnered about 20.6 million overall.
Meanwhile, CBS' potent Tuesday lineup ended with solid finishes from crime drama "NCIS," which scored 16.1 million (3.3/10) against "Idol," and "The Mentalist," with 16.8 million (3.7/10) against "Dancing." On The CW, the 8 p.m. finale of "Reaper" pulled in 1.8 million viewers, while the 9 p.m. season farewell to "90210" drew 2.1 million.
Despite "Idol's" brawny performance, it wasn't enough to lift a special preview of Fox's highly promoted new musical comedy "Glee" to great heights. "Glee," an unconventional one-hour about a high school glee club set to song, hung on to a little less than half of its "Idol" lead-in, averaging 9.9 million (4.0/10 in 18-49).
But Fox officials said they were happy with the show's performance, which they termed a "sneak preview," not an official premiere. The network wanted its mighty "Idol" audience to sample the new show, which won't begin airing regularly until the fall.
"Last night was not about ratings or beating the competition, it was about having 'Glee' seen," said Joe Earley, a Fox spokesman. "The true measure of success will be how word of mouth keeps up over the summer."