American Idol is a television show on the Fox Network in the United States (CTV in Canada), based on the popular British show Pop Idol. The show is a competition in which viewers can call in and vote on contestants to determine the best "undiscovered" young singer in the United States, with the winner receiving a major record deal, although some runners-up have achieved enough fame to ink record deals of their own.
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In the show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, hopeful contestants, after being screened by preliminary panels which select for singing talent or humorous potential and human interest, audition before three judges (Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) in cities across the United States (sometimes a celebrity fourth judge is added). These are generally held at large convention centers where thousands of people wait in line for auditions. In order to be eligible, the contestants are not permitted to have any current recording or talent management agreements (but may have had one at some point in the past). Based on turnout and availability, producers select a certain number from the crowd to audition before the three judges (this may take several rounds). Contestants are required to sing a cappella. Those who impress a majority of the judges move on to the second round auditions which take place in Hollywood (typically only several dozen out of the thousands in each city move on). The contestants selected despite lack of singing talent for appearance before the panel provide a major attraction to the viewing audience as they simultaneously proclaim their talent while turning out gut-wrenching performances which are ridiculed by the judges.
One of the most popular portions of each season are initial episodes showcasing American Idol hopefuls auditioning before the panel of judges. These early episodes focus mainly on the poorest performances from contestants who often appear oblivious to their lack of star talent. These "contestants" have been selected by the preliminary panels in a negative sense, a typical combination is lack of singing ability combined with vanity regarding their "talent." Others are selected for human interest potential, the 2005 auditions featured a "cannibal" who had sampled human flesh in an anthropology class and an aspiring female prize fighter. Poor singers often face intense and humbling criticism from the judges, and especially from Cowell, who can be harsh and blunt in his rejections. Typically the judges express disgust or dismay or suppressed laughter. Some poor performances have attained notoriety on their own; these have included season two's performance of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" by Keith Beukelaer and season three's rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" by William Hung.
Contestants must be U.S. citizens and, for the first three seasons, had to be 16 to 24 years of age. For the fourth season, the upper age limit was raised to 28 to attract more mature and diverse contestants. In early 2003, a 50-year-old college professor named Drew Cummings filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the show with age discrimination because producers denied him an audition due to his age. His case was not taken up by the EEOC.
On to Hollywood
Once in Hollywood, the three judges narrow the initial field of several hundred down to a group of 24 semifinalists, divided equally between men and women, who are invited to perform in the live portions of the show. On three consecutive weeks, the male semifinalists perform only against the other men, and the women only against the other women. Each contestant performs live (in the eastern and central time zones), in primetime, a song of his or her choice, and receives critiques from the judges, who, from this point on, serve almost entirely in an advisory capacity, with little direct influence on the results.
Viewers have two hours following the broadcast of the show in their time zone to phone in votes for their favorite contestant by calling a toll-free number (viewers may also send text messages to vote). Callers are allowed to vote as many times as they like for any number of contestants. On the following night's episode the results of the nationwide vote are announced, and the bottom two vote-getters are eliminated each week. At the end of the semifinal rounds, the six men and six women who remain advance to the finals.
During the middle seasons, the semifinal round consisted of 32 semifinalists who were divided into four groups of eight. In the first season, they were 30 contestants, divided into three groups of ten. Each week for four (three for season one) weeks, one group would perform with the top two (three for season one) vote-getters from each group advancing to the finals. When all the semifinal shows had been completed, there was a wildcard phase. Each judge chose one semifinalist to advance to the final round, and a studio audience vote determined the final wildcard spot, rounding out the field of twelve finalists. In season 1, 5 contestants were chosen, and judges chose one to advance to the finals. This was changed to the procedure (see above) in the 4th season due to the abundace of females (and no males left in the final 4) in the third season.
Semifinalists (and in some cases, other contestants as well) must submit to background checks and may be summarily disqualified for past behavior deemed undesirable, such as an arrest record. Several finalists have been disqualified for revelations that surfaced late in the competition. Plus, semifinalists also must be subjected to a drug test, to avoid a drug scandal/conspiracy. Some contestants failed the drug test and didn't became part of the top 24.
Also contestants are also contracted to be "conclaved" from the outside world, meaning they can't use cell phones (unless it's between family members or an emergency), use the Internet (esp. chat, and post in forums and message boards), leave the Hollywood jurisdiction, leave their apartments without consent, watch TV (esp. News and Sports), listen to radio stations, and read newspapers during their duration in the competition. This is to keep the contestants safe from terrorists, epidemics, the annoying paparazzi, and to prevent the contestant from being depressed which might create a distraction of their singing ability. The only time when a contestant can be free from this rule as if he or she gets voted out. They can however watch movies, since they have no known distracting effect on the contestants.
In the finals, which last eleven weeks, each finalist performs a song live in primetime from a weekly theme (two songs in later rounds). Themes have included Motown, disco, big band music, and Billboard #1 hits. Some themes are based on music recorded by a particular artist, and the finalists have a chance to work with that artist in preparing their performances. Artists around whom themes have been based include Barry Manilow, Gloria Estefan, and Elton John.
When there are three finalists remaining, themes are no longer used. Instead, each contestant sings three songs: one of their own choice, one chosen by the judges, and one chosen by record executive Clive Davis. However in Season Two, in the final three, one song was chosen randomly from a bowl, with one chosen by the performer and one by the judges.
In any case, each week on the following night's live "results" episode, the contestant with the fewest votes is sent home. The bottom three vote-getters are separated from the remaining contestants. Over the course of the episode, two are revealed as being "safe" for the week, and the loser is sent home after performing one final song to end the episode. This process is repeated each week until the one remaining contestant is declared the winner.
A spin-off series called American Juniors premiered on June 3, 2003. In December 2003, winners of eleven different national Idol competitions were collected for a World Idol competition in London. Kelly Clarkson came in second after Norway's Kurt Nilsen.
The number next to a contestant's name denotes the number of times he or she was in the "Bottom Three".
|Season 1 Finalists|
(with dates of elimination)
|Season 1 (2002)|
|Justin Guarini||September 4|
|Nikki McKibbin||August 28|
|Tamyra Gray||August 21|
|RJ Helton||August 14|
|Christina Christian||August 7|
|Ryan Starr||July 31|
|A.J. Gil||July 24|
|Jim Verraros||July 17|
|EJay Day||July 17|
In the first season the show was co-hosted by Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman. Kelly Clarkson won, with Justin Guarini coming in second. Numerous television specials starring the ten finalists followed, as well as the box office bomb entitled From Justin to Kelly. Since winning, Clarkson has gone on to a successful musical career. Her first album Thankful debuted at #1, went double-platinum, and spawned the grammy-nominated hit "Miss Independent." Her sophomore album Breakaway debuted in November 2004 at #3 on the Billboard Charts. Since then it has sold nearly 2 million copies, and includes such hits as "Since U Been Gone" (#2 on Billboard) and "Breakaway" (#6 on Billboard). Guarini's self titled album was a flop, selling just 130,000 copies to date.
|Date||Theme||Bottom Two (both eliminated)|
|July 17||Motown||EJay Day||Jim Verraros|
|July 24||1960s||A.J. Gil||Ryan Starr||Christina Christian|
|July 31||1970s||Ryan Starr (2)||Justin Guarini||Nikki McKibbin|
|August 7||Big band||Christina Christian (2)||RJ Helton||Nikki McKibbin (2)|
|August 14||Love songs||RJ Helton (2)||Nikki McKibbin (3)|
|August 21||1980s & 1990s||Tamyra Gray||Nikki McKibbin (4)|
|August 28||Nikki McKibbin (5)|
|September 4||Kelly Clarkson||Justin Guarini|
|Season 2 Finalists|
(with dates of elimination)
|Clay Aiken||May 21|
|Kimberley Locke||May 14|
|Joshua Gracin||May 7|
|Carmen Rasmusen||April 23|
|Kimberly Caldwell||April 16|
|Rickey Smith||April 9|
|Julia DeMato||March 26|
|Charles Grigsby||March 19|
|Vanessa Olivarez||March 12|
In season two with Seacrest as the lone host, Ruben Studdard was the winner with Clay Aiken as runner up. Out of 24 million votes cast, Studdard finished just 130,000 votes ahead of Aiken, although there remains controversy over the validity of the reported results. Despite Studdard's win, Aiken has enjoyed more widespread popularity.
|Date||Theme||Guest Judge(s)||Bottom Three|
|March 11||Motown||Lamont Dozier||Vanessa Olivarez||Kimberley Locke||Julia DeMato|
|March 18||Movie Songs||Gladys Knight||Charles Grigsby||Julia DeMato (2)||Corey Clark|
|March 25||Country Music||Olivia Newton-John||Julia DeMato (3)||Kimberly Caldwell||Rickey Smith|
|April 1||Disco||Verdine White||Corey Clark (disqualified)|
|April 8||Billboard #1 Hits||Lionel Richie||Rickey Smith (2)||Kimberly Caldwell (2)||Kimberley Locke (2)|
|April 15||Billy Joel||Smokey Robinson||Kimberly Caldwell (3)||Carmen Rasmusen||Trenyce|
|April 22||Diane Warren songs||Diane Warren||Carmen Rasmusen (2)||Trenyce (2)||Joshua Gracin|
|April 29||Neil Sedaka songs||Neil Sedaka||Trenyce (3)||Ruben Studdard|
|May 6||Bee Gees Songs||Robin Gibb||Joshua Gracin (2)||Kimberley Locke (3)|
|May 13||Kimberley Locke (4)|
|May 20||Paul Anka||Ruben Studdard||Clay Aiken|
|Season 3 Finalists|
(with dates of elimination)
|Diana DeGarmo||May 26|
|Jasmine Trias||May 19|
|LaToya London||May 12|
|George Huff||May 5|
|John Stevens||April 28|
|Jennifer Hudson||April 21|
|Jon Peter Lewis||April 15|
|Camile Velasco||April 7|
|Amy Adams||March 31|
|Matthew Rogers||March 24|
|Leah LaBelle||March 17|
The third season of American Idol premiered on January 19, 2004. After a nationwide vote of more than 65 million votes in total, Fantasia Barrino won the "American Idol" title and Diana DeGarmo was runner up. During the season, controversy over the legitimacy of the contest increased as geeky rocker Jon Peter Lewis and young crooner John Stevens stayed afloat while others were unexpectedly eliminated. The third season was also shown in Australia on Network Ten about half a week after episodes were shown in the US.
|Date||Theme||Guest Judge(s)||Bottom Three|
|March 17||Soul||Leah Labelle||Jennifer Hudson||Amy Adams|
|March 24||Country||Matthew Rogers||Camile Velasco||Diana DeGarmo|
|March 31||Motown||Nick Ashford,|
|Amy Adams (2)||Jennifer Hudson (2)||LaToya London|
|April 7||Elton John||Camile Velasco (2)||Jasmine Trias||Diana DeGarmo (2)|
|April 15||Movies||Quentin Tarantino||Jon Peter Lewis||John Stevens||Diana DeGarmo (3)|
|April 21||Barry Manilow||Barry Manilow||Jennifer Hudson (3)||Fantasia Barrino||LaToya London (2)|
|April 28||Gloria Estefan||Gloria Estefan||John Stevens (2)||George Huff||Jasmine Trias (2)|
|May 5||Big Band||George Huff (2)||Jasmine Trias (3)|
|May 12||Disco||Donna Summer||LaToya London (3)||Fantasia Barrino (2)|
|May 19||Clive Davis||Jasmine Trias (4)|
|May 26||Paul Anka||Fantasia Barrino||Diana DeGarmo|
The fourth season of American Idol premiered on January 18 2005. Auditions were held in Washington, DC, St. Louis, Missouri, New Orleans, Louisiana, Las Vegas, Nevada, Cleveland, Ohio, Orlando, Florida and San Francisco, California. Auditions were held from August to October 2004. While in the past seasons celebrity guest judges have been invited to participate during the competition, this was the first season where guest judges were invited to participate in the auditions. The music celebrities featured were:
- January 18, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray
- January 25, Gene Simmons of KISS
- January 26, Kenny Loggins
- February 1, LL Cool J
- February 2, Brandy
The most notable contestant in the early episodes was Mary Roach who auditioned in Washington D.C. and brought considerable negative attention (including false rumors of mental illness) and comparisons to William Hung.
Also noted was Leroy Wells from Grand Bay, Alabama who auditioned in New Orleans singing Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money". He acquired mild fame by repeatedly yelling, "Can you dig it?" to the judges and for his incomprehensibility.
This season also implemented new rules for the final portion of the contest. Instead of competing in semifinal heats in which the top vote-getters are promoted to the final round, 24 semifinalists were named — 12 men and 12 women, who competed separately, with 2 of each gender being voted off each week until 12 finalists were left.
Mario Vazquez, who was originally one of the top 12, dropped out of the competition on March 11, just days before the top 12's first performance, citing "personal issues," opening a spot in the final 12 for Nikko Smith, who had been voted off in the semi-finals the previous week.
|March 16||1960s music||Lindsey Cardinale||Mikalah Gordon||Jessica Sierra|
|March 24||Billboard #1 Hits||Mikalah Gordon (2)||Nadia Turner||Anthony Fedorov|
|March 30||1990s music||Jessica Sierra (2)||Anwar Robinson||Nadia Turner (2)|
|April 6||Musicals||Nikko Smith||Scott Savol||Vonzell Solomon|
|April 13||Music from year of birth||Nadia Turner (3)||Bo Bice||Scott Savol (2)|
|April 20||Disco||Anwar Robinson (2)||Anthony Fedorov (2)||Scott Savol (3)|
|April 27||2000s music||Constantine Maroulis||Anthony Fedorov (3)||Vonzell Solomon (2)|
|May 4||Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/Billboard Top 40||Scott Savol (4)||Anthony Fedorov (4)|
|May 11||Nashville Country and Gamble and Huff||Anthony Fedorov (5)||Vonzell Solomon (3)|
- American Idol Greatest Moments (2002)
- American Idol Season 2: All Time Classic American Love Songs (2003)
- American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics (2003)
- "God Bless The U.S.A." (single) (2003)
- "What the World Needs Now" (single) (2003)
- American Idol Season 3: Greatest Soul Classics (2004)
This series has been imitated by many other shows, among them Cupid, Superstar USA and Nashville Star (hosted by LeAnn Rimes). Only Nashville Star still remains as a returning series and is the most popular.