‘American Idol’ Daily: Change is a comin’


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With the debut of Season 8 a mere 29 days away, ‘Idol’ producers are offering the first hints of what looks to be the biggest shake-up in the ‘American Idol’ format since the show’s early formative seasons. In an exclusive conversation, Executive Producer Ken Warwick confirmed the rumors sweeping the Internet on some of the changes afoot, knocked down a few others, urged patience on some more and gave his thoughts and insight on the entire shake-up.

The complete report on the conversation will be available soon in the L.A. Times mid-season preview issue, but below are a few choice high points:


-- Warwick said the biggest challenge to making this season work is in the fact that the show has now been on the air for so long. “What do you change?” he asked. “If you are any good at your job, after the third season you’ve honed it as well as you know how, really. There’s the question of how do you change it up without destroying what you’ve got? In truth the biggest problem will always be, from now on, keeping it fresh.”

-- He said the chemistry has been “great” with new judge Kara DioGuardi, suggesting that she provides a strong foil to Simon Cowell’s domination of the judging panel. “It’s good because the girls can gang up on Simon a bit and he doesn’t always get his own way.”

-- As reported, the auditions will run for three weeks, followed by a paradoxical two weeks of Hollywood Week. “It was brilliant this year,” Warwick said. “It always does very well in the ratings. People love that ‘I’ve made it, almost made, and not quite.’ They love the emotion that is encapsulated in that part of the show.”

-- In perhaps the biggest concrete change, apart from the fourth judge, Warwick confirmed that 36 contestants will emerge from Hollywood Week, going on to the semifinal rounds, rather than the previous 24.

-- There are new twists coming both in how the contestants are winnowed in Hollywood Week and in the Top 36 rounds, possibly including, but not necessarily, a wild card rounds. Stay tuned for more news on that front.

-- “There are going to be mentors, yes,” Warwick said. “There might not be as many as there have been in the past. I’m going for the best I can get. It’s a wish list at the moment and that’s why we can’t say anything about it. If I get a third of who I’m going after it would be great.” He also said that the mentors likely would skew slightly younger than they have in the past, but not so young that “it’s no good putting a one-hit wonder kid, that might be the hottest thing on earth now, because what are they going to say? They are lucky enough to be there themselves.”

-- ‘Idol’ will not be giving back this year. The telethon episode that has been a part of the lineup for the past two seasons will be sidelined. Warwick blamed the faltering economy, which he said makes it “a bit crass to ask people to delve into pockets that are already stretched to heck and back just to keep their mortgage going” as well as the strain it puts on the crew having to produce not just two weekly shows but a mid-season extravaganza with Gives Back as well as the Superbowl-sized spectacle of the finale. “It would be fair to say that it’s about half a dozen creative people that make ‘Idol.’ They do all the editing, all the shooting, they’ve got assistants and things, but it’s a very small creative team. When we stretch them to do an ‘Idol Gives Back’ as well as keep the mainline show on week after week, it kills us,” Warwick said.

-- Asked whether the tragic suicide of a former auditionee had affected how the audition rounds would be played, Warwick completely denied that the incident had any impact on how the auditions would play. “Not at all,” he said. “It’s already been done. It was done before, it happened while we were doing Hollywood Week, so it hasn’t affected anything that we’ve done.”

-- As to the rumors that this season would include more backstage footage of the contestants, Warwick said coyly, “There is going to be slightly more reality.” Pressed on whether he would include catfights and the like from the dressing room, he continued, “I’ll put it this way: If it’s there, then, yes, we will show it.”

-- Richard Rushfield

Photo: Fox