Pop Idol 2 did average higher ratings than the first series, averaging 8.2m compared to 7.5m for the first series (excluding results shows as they weren’t all long enough to make the BARB top 30s). Although PI2 didn’t have quite the same surge towards the end and the final was over 2m down on the first series, I think the general perception was that the second series had not been as good.
Then The X Factor came in and actually averaged slightly lower than either Pop Idol (7.4m) and there was some talk that ITV felt the whole format might have peaked, so they felt the safest bet was to stick with the format with the star power of Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne.
Yes, for the first two series it was pretty much neck-and-neck with Strictly, I remember Brucie saying in the Radio Times he was so amused that fusty old Strictly was going toe-to-toe with the snazzy new X Factor. Strictly certainly was stronger competition, Pop Idol came during that odd period in 2001-04 when BBC1 didn't have a regular big live entertainment show on a Saturday night, the House Party having long been axed, and also didn't have Match of the Day either, so they didn't have many schedule staples and their Saturdays were very hit and miss.
As you say, Pop Idol 2 was considered inferior to the original. I've said this before but the original series of Pop Idol seemed a revelation at the time, the thing I always mention is when Rik Waller had to get a bye and then pull out, and on the show they actually discussed this and invited the audience to ask questions to the judges, and it felt like a real breath of fresh air, a show that was honest with its audience and was happy to discuss its machinations. It was a really clever format as well, I remember when it was announced the top ten would be singing every week I thought that would be quite a dull and repetitive format but it actually had a proper creative reason for doing that as you could see them improve every week. Had they done the familiar vote-for-your-favourite-and-then-there's-a-final format Gareth Gates would have had it sewn up from day one, but this way they got a more satisfying result.*
Whereas on Pop Idol 2 it all felt that bit more contrived, and it felt like they were trying to replicate all the characters and the talking points from series one, so it was nowhere near as exciting. One thing I remember about the final of Series 2 is that it was three hours long (which rather illustrates what a beast it all was now) but half an hour before the end they stopped for a news summary which was seemingly so the final half hour could count as a separate show and they could report a bigger audience. A bit cynical.
As you say, they ended up pretty much making The X Factor a big hit. It's interesting because at the turn of the century, as I say in that period between House Party and Strictly, the general concensus was that the big Saturday spectacular was dying, and what you'd be left with was shows like Friends Like These, made on a tiny budget and pulling in modest audiences, and that would be it for the future. And then The X Factor started making the sets bigger and boasting about its viewing figures and throwing the kitchen sink at it, and suddenly these shows started mattering again.
Popstars the Rivals was TLS but had nothing to do with Cowell. Was an ITV production not Syco or Thames.
Yes, although it was the most shamless retread of Pop Idol, and had very little to do with the first series of Popstars, which had all been pre-recorded with no studio shows. Actually the original Popstars (which started twenty years ago this week) was a really strange departure for Saturday nights, it was more of a documentary than it was light entertainment.
The original Popstars was a revelation at the time, again it was very honest about showing its machinations (happily admitting when nobody turned up to the auditions, and of course very much so after HearSay has been formed and the programme became about itself, Popstars interviewing HearSay about being interviewed about being on Popstars). But by the time The Rivals came around it had been totally overshadowed by Pop Idol and the studio shows were exactly the same, none of the judges from the original Popstars of course but one from Pop Idol, sat in the same place in the set as they did on Pop Idol, and following the format to the letter. At the same time you had Fame Academy 1 and so you got the scenario where on Popstars they were trying to make a group but they were all singing individually, and on Fame Academy they were aiming to find a solo artist and they all sang in groups.
As mentioned, Fame Academy 2 was shown at the same time as Pop Idol 2, it was the most shameless spoiler attempt of all time. It would chase Pop Idol around the schedule so both started at the same time, and even the phone numbers were one digit apart. People complain about the Beeb chasing ratings, never had it been so cynical and obvious than it was here. A total embarrassment.
* Of course, even though Will won, Cowell was always clearly in the Gareth camp and even after the show he still thought Gareth was the best bet and promoted him endlessly, more than Will probably (I'm not sure you'd be able to get away with that these days, Gareth pretty much got the same prize so the whole competition was a waste of time). A few months after the first series they showed the live tour show on ITV and it was the most ludicrous Gareth-heavy edit, Will was barely in it, it was as if his fan club had made it. Which they probably had, to be honest, given Cowell signed it off.