‘American Idol’ remembers that people in Utah and the Mountain time zone exist

<b>Scott D. Pierce • </b>Sunday episodes will air live in Mountain time zone, so viewers can vote in real time.

This image released by ABC shows, from left, Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, Ryan Seacrest and Luke Bryan on the set of "American Idol" in New York. The season premiere had a strong debut on ABC, reaching more than 10 million viewers. (Eric Liebowitz/ABC via AP)

Here’s a sentence I never expected to write: “American Idol” is more entertaining — more watchable — than it’s been in many years.

And ABC is doing something really smart starting Sunday. It’s acknowledging the existence of the Mountain time zone, which doesn’t happen very often.

For three consecutive Sundays, two-hour “Idol” episodes will air live across the continental United States. Viewers here in the Salt Lake television market can tune in from 6 to 8 p.m. MDT, at exactly the same time as the folks in New York (8-10 p.m. EDT), Chicago (7-9 p.m. CDT) and Los Angeles (5-7 p.m. PDT).

And that matters because local “Idol” fans can vote for their favorites via text, online (AmericanIdol.com/vote) or on the “American Idol” app during the show; their votes will be tallied with those from the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones; and the results will be announced at the end of the episode.

As we head into the next phase of the ‘American Idol’ competition, it only makes sense to let every viewer from coast to coast experience the magic of live television and have the ability to vote for America’s next superstar,” said ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey.

That makes enormous sense. Which makes it a highly unusual move for a TV network.

The way these things usually go is that viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones get to vote; the rest of us don’t really get to play along. This way, only Alaska and Hawaii don’t get to play along.

Fox never did this when it had the show for 15 seasons, but it almost never aired episodes on Sundays.

I get it. Clearly, this has a lot more to do with the West Coast than the Rocky Mountains. Our time zone has only about 5 percent of the U.S. population; the Pacific Time Zone has about 14 percent.

But, still, it’s nice to be included instead of ignored.

Utah doesn’t represent • Lots of Utahns have made it to the “American Idol” finals — but not this year. Only one local, Cesley Parrish of Highland, made it to Hollywood Week, and she barely appeared on camera before being eliminated.

So … Utahns can vote along with everybody else, but there are no Utahns to vote for.

It’s fun to watch • Maybe if ABC could get some of the people who used to watch “Idol” to give this edition a chance, the ratings would be better. Thanks largely to the presence of Katy Perry on the judging panel, it’s been fun to watch.

Whether that remains true as the focus shifts more to the contestants … well, we’ll see.

As the ratings go • Not surprisingly, ABC is trying to convince us that the ratings for “Idol” are great. Just this week, the network issued a news release trumpeting that it won this past Sunday by 71 percent (in viewers 18-49), and it grew “by double digits” over the previous week, producing “huge time-slot gains.” And that “Idol” did 155 percent better than the corresponding Sunday in 2017, when ABC aired “Once Upon a Time” and “Match Game.”

All true.

But keep in mind that, to date, “Idol” is averaging about 7 million viewers this season, That’s about 23 million fewer than the show averaged at its peak (2006-07); it’s even down a couple million from the “final season” on Fox in 2016.

ABC also isn’t talking about whether it’s making any money on “American Idol” at these viewership levels. Other networks were offered the show and turned it down because, just to break even, they would need numbers much higher than what ABC is getting.

The question is — how much is ABC losing on “Idol”?