‘American Idol,' returning Tuesday on Fox

Verne Gay
Newsday (MCT)

"American Idol," the world's best-known show, hardly needs an introduction, but this new season certainly does. So let's call this one - beginning Tuesday night at 8 EST on Fox - the Season of More.

More judges. More finalists. More Hollywood rounds (one more, anyway). More backstage intimacy. More "aspirational stories." And emerging from this bounty of more: Perhaps, more surprises.

That's the general idea, anyway. Battling predictability, "Idol" is changing the game plan. "There were no panic changes," says executive producer Ken Warwick. "It wasn't, 'Oh, my God, we've dropped seven percent (in total viewers) and what are we going to do?"

Here's what you need to know:

TRYOUTS BEGIN TUESDAY from Phoenix and Kansas City, with the final audition episode airing Jan. 29. This means not as many sad-sack tryouts as in the past, and likely a few more stories with heart. The show also wants to spend more time with the quality contestants, which will lead to ...

FOUR HOLLYWOOD EDITIONS rather than the usual three. These begin Feb. 3 and end Feb. 11. So there will be more semifinalists (36, as opposed to 24). Why? Because "Idol" wants to give viewers a better look at the group that will yield a champ in May. The 36 will be announced Feb. 11.

THREE SEMIFINALIST SHOWS as opposed to the two of seasons past, when the 12 "boys" sang and then the 12 "girls." As Warwick explains, "This keeps (the show) fresher for longer, and give us more chances to know all 36. It changes things up more when you get to the top 12." You, the fan, will vote for three finalists following the Feb. 17, Feb. 24, and March 3 shows. These will be coed, meaning viewers pick one male, one female and then the next top vote-getter.

A WILD-CARD ROUND: Yes, it's been revived. On March 5, the judges will get the final say. They'll pick three more contestants who somehow slipped by the TV viewer/ voters. On March 10, the final 12 perform for the first time.

ONE MORE JUDGE: How could I forget? The biggest change of all is singer-songwriter-producer Kara DioGuardi joining our threesome. Simon Cowell is still the tiebreaker, but DioGuardi said (in a conference call last week) that "there is a little girl power going on," with her and Paula Abdul occasionally siding against Cowell and Randy Jackson.

Her style? "I believe in second chances (for contestants) early on, but third chances, that's another story," she said. Her advice to singers? "Be you."





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