With American Idol starting its eighth season next month, some changes are coming to the show that's dominated the TV ratings every Spring since its premiere. The show will bring back a wild card round, expand Hollywood Week to two weeks of shows, and of course have a fourth judge around to shake things up.
Today, Idol's executive producer Ken Warwick hopped on the phone to chat about some of the changes. Here are some highlights of what I learned:
- This year's audition episodes will be cut down a bit, and Hollywood Week will be expanded from two shows to four. "The show was always so good, and there was so much emotion there," Warwick said. He hinted that some auditioners who don't seem like standouts at first will really shine in the Hollywood episodes. He also said the producers will be making an effort to show all of the semifinalists before they're announced.
- Speaking of the semifinalists, there will be 36 of them this time — a full dozen more than usual. The semifinal round will then take three weeks, with one group of 12 contestants performing each night. From each group of 12, three contestants will make it straight through to the finals: the top male singer, the top female singer, and then the next-highest vote-getter, regardless of gender. That's how the first nine finalists will be picked.
- As for the other three, they'll advance through a wild card round, which will work like this: the no. 4 singer from each group of 12 will automatically be put in the wild card group, and the judges will fill out that field with anybody else they want. From that group, the judges will select the final three singers who will move on.
To see what Warwick had to say about this year's judging dynamic and get a full schedule for the early rounds, just read more.
- New judge Kara DioGuardi will add an interesting new twist to the show, Warwick said, because she and Paula can now gang up on Simon and his word is no longer the final say. He also said that because she's been involved with the making of albums from different Idol winners, "she's probably the best-qualified person to know what we're looking for."
- The cut in the number of audition episodes doesn't necessarily mean a drop in the number of silly auditioners we'll see, Warwick said — maybe a cut of one or two crazies per city, but not more than that. "We can be criticized for saying, 'That person was terrible and you put them in front of the judges,'" Warwick said. "If I set up a situation where all the bad ones never got seen, I'd have a pretty boring show on my hands — and it wouldn't be honest."
- Warwick expects the ratings to go down, as almost all TV ratings have this year, but he said he's "not ashamed of that" because of the show's track record of success.
- Idol Gives Back is on hold for the year and may become an every-other-year event. The decision to keep it off this year was both because of the economy and the amount of effort it took to put the show together while still concentrating on the regular Idol episodes, Warwick said.
- Warwick doesn't really care if contestants have had professional contracts or managers before, like Kristy Lee Cook and Carly Smithson did last season — just as long as they don't have them at the time they audition. "The majority of the kids have never had any experience at all and are as we like them to be," Warwick said. "But there are probably a couple in there that have had a go before and been unsuccessful."
- Contrary to all rumors, "There's never been any discussion that we would want to get rid of Paula," he said.
What do you think? Are these changes that make you more (or less) intrigued about the Idol season to come? I'm certainly curious to learn if I captured the future winner at the San Francisco auditions! Here's a rundown of key dates for the early part of the season:
- Season premiere: Jan. 13
- First Hollywood episode: Feb. 3
- Semifinalists announced: Feb. 11
- First semifinalist performance: Feb. 17
- First live results show: Feb. 18
- Wild card round and top 12 announced: March 5
- Top 12 perform for the first time: March 10
Photos courtesy of Fox