For most of the show's first ten seasons, it seemed that the only direction that American Idol knew was up. For the better part of a decade, Idol was the country's most popular show, surviving flop winners, judge turnover and pop culture's tendency to constantly keep moving forward. But with ratings falling to their lowest since the show's first season, and Idol no longer America's most-watched show, it would appear that Idol has finally discovered "down," and now they need to make some changes to try to reverse the trend back in their favor.

One former contestant—and neither they or hosting site The Hollywood Reporter are saying who—has some ideas. Said anonymous contestant has written a long article filled with suggestions of how the show can turn things around, in the hopes of saving the show that may or may have not have launched his or her career. Here's some of the better thoughts shared by Anonymous Contestant:

  • Stay Out of Their Own Way. "How do you keep people interested in your show when there are singing competitions airing year-round? Take a break. For Fox to expect that viewers, after tuning in to The X Factor from September to December, would jump into another singing show in January looks like a giant miscalculation. The market is watered down, and perhaps sooner rather than later, all these shows will kill each other off."
  • Find a new Simon. "Mean sells, which is why Cowell remains among the most popular figures on television. And there's also that mentality of "us versus them"; how dare some British bloke go on television and be nasty to our young dreamers? Idol is quintessential American television, and as Americans, we like to fight a common enemy, so maybe it's just a matter of the show finding another mean Brit?"
  • Up the criticism. "[Simon] obviously knew the show, and I listened to him in that respect, but it's a lot different when you're taking criticism from a Steven Tyler-- if he were to offer any. And there's the problem: Everybody needs support, but the harsh reality is, if these acts want to be in this business, they're going to have to get a few lashings. To regain credibility, Idol needs critical feedback from the judges and critiques that are spot-on."
  • Go big or go home. "From an Idol perspective, the set hasn't changed that much. There are still those who hide behind an instrument or stand at attention at center stage. Maybe for starters, put the judges in different places. Tommy Lee had an upside-down drum kit; perhaps hang someone by their feet?"

The entire article's pretty interesting and worth reading—although it'll no doubt be more interesting when and if its author comes clean about their identity. Is that you, Diana DeGarmo? Bucky Covington? General Larry Platt? Fess up, coward.

Student Loans: Slashing Origination Fees Keeps Banks Competitive: Seeking a 'total relationship' with students.

Banking Wire October 13, 2005 | Brenner, Robert Many banks are starting to cover students' origination fees for education loans. But geography will determine how far three percent gets them. this web site citibank student loan

To better compete in the highly competitive market, more banks have begun paying the federal government's three percent loan-origination fee, traditionally passed on to the borrower. It's a bold move-one certain to make a bank more appealing to students. But whether this move is putting banks ahead of the game, in line with the competition or fortifying its defenses is a matter of geography.

Six years ago, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency initiated the KeystoneBEST loan program, offering to underwrite one origination point on loans made to students attending college in the state and encouraging the originating bank to underwrite the other two. The move sent a ripple through the industry that is becoming a wave in this lending season. "Initially, it was an aggressive move to get a competitive advantage and now it just remains the norm to keep up with competition," says Tom Lustig, director of marketing for PNC Bank's education-loan center. The bank joined the program in 2001, but is expanding it this academic year. The bank has seen between 12 percent and 15 percent growth each year in business and expects up to an eight percent increase this year, owing to its additional underwriting. The bank expanded its partnerships in January to include lending organizations in eight other states.

The top three loan originators under the Federal Family Education Loan Program for fiscal year 2004 were the Sallie Mae Corp., Bank One and the Citibank Student Loan Corporation, according to the Department of Education. From fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2004, these lenders' portfolios increased 33 percent, 18 percent and 14 percent, to $4.2 billion, $3.9 billion and $3.4 billion, respectively.

On June 5, SunTrust Bank began underwriting all three origination points in Tennessee. Last year, it underwrote two; in 2003, it was only one. "We decided [it] would be a good move, because it was a key market for us," says Marke A. Thomas, svp and business-line manager of SunTrust education loans. He concedes the move was primarily a defense mechanism. Thomas believes the movement toward zero-fee origination is fueled by the recent boom in the loan-consolidation market-a business SunTrust courted aggressively. "Maintaining that origination ability up front with school volume is critical to growing your consolidation effort," he says. web site citibank student loan

First Horizon National Corp. began offering zero-fee origination to students attending school in Tennessee through First Tennessee Bank on June 1. The decision was a reaction to larger regional banks' attempts to move in on its territory, says Dondi Black, svp of consumer lending for First Horizon. While Black acknowledges the additional expense of underwriting will hurt the bank's bottom line, the bank has its eye on the bigger picture. "We were looking at the opportunity for the total relationship," she says. "Over the lifetime of the relationship, we feel comfortable this is a value proposition we can accept." Officials were unable to quantify the program's impact on revenue.

Congress is considering proposals to cut the three percent origination fee over the next five years, eliminating it by 2010. "There's [the] thought that, by the end of the year, the president will sign it," says PNC's Lustig.

Brenner, Robert