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'American Idol' 101--About Fox's Hit Singing Competition


Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban

What is 'American Idol'?:


Launched on Fox in June 2002, American Idol is a reality singing competition that spun-off from the British show Pop Idol. Since then, the mother-of-all-singing-competitions has become one of the most widely watched TV series in American history. In 2011, it gained the distinction of becoming the first TV show to rank number one in the Nielsen ratings for seven straight seasons.

American Idol set itself apart by introducing a system that allows viewers to vote for their favorite contenders from home and puts the results in the hands of the American public. Over the years, Idol has successfully launched the careers of numerous musicians, and--by doing so--altered the very face of the music industry.


How Does 'American Idol' Work?:


American Idol contenders must pass through a series of challenges:

  1. Auditions: Months before the latest season premieres, American Idol try-outs are held in cities across the country, where tens of thousands line-up for their opportunity to sing for the Idol judges, who determine which singers will continue on in the competition. Although viewers only see the final stage there are actually three levels that contenders go through in the try-outs--where they sing for producers before being cut or sent to perform for the judges. The American Idol auditions also attract people who just want to be seen on TV or who are using it as a platform to audition their comedic or acting skills.

  2. Hollywood: Once the contenders arrive in Hollywood they must perform both alone and as groups. Judges chose 24 to 36 singers who will continue to the next round.

  3. Semifinals: From the semifinals on, TV viewers determine the results by voting online or by phone. The Idol competitors who have made it to this point then perform during live shows. Often the group is separated by sex with the men singing one night and the women performing on another. After each episode voting is allowed for several hours and the results are shared during a results show. The top 10 contestants who have received the highest number of viewer votes continue on the finals. Contestants may be given a second chance during a wild card challenge from which the judges choose 1-3 performers to return to the competition.

  4. Finals: During the finals the singers compete in weekly challenges where they must perform songs from a particular musical genre (like rock or '80s music) or specific musician (like Rod Stewart or Whitney Houston). The judges critique each performance and viewers vote after each episode. A results show airs the following night.

  5. The Judges' Save: Since it was introduced in 200, once The Judges' Save is in play it allows Idol judges to override viewer votes and save one finalist from elimination.

  6. Finale: By the end of the season, American Idol has come down to the top two singers, who compete head-to-head during the final performance show. The season finale offers performances from the season's competitors as well as past winners and other musical guests. At the end of the night, host Ryan Seacrest announces the new American Idol.

  7. The Tour: Although it is not broadcast on TV, the competition is followed by a summer tour, American Idol Live, which brings the season's top 10 or 11 contestants to various venues across the United States, where they perform live concerts.




What Does the 'American Idol' Winner Win?:


The winner of American Idol wins a record deal with a major label. That record deal could include up to six albums. The winner also gets a contract with 19 Management, the American Idol-affiliated management company that has the right of first-refusal to sign all Idol contestants. Past winners have reportedly earned at least one million dollars in the first year alone.

Winners aren't the only contenders who profit from the American Idol competition. Runners-up also receive record deals (as have some other finalists); and the top ten finalists also have the chance to go on the tour where they may earn a six-figure payout.


Who Are the 'American Idol' Judges?:


American Idol is judged by:

  • Randy Jackson:
  • Pop diva Mariah Carey joined Idol in the 12th season.
  • Country music star Keith Urban first became a judge in 2012, with Season Twelve.
  • Rap star Nicki Minaj was also added for Season 12, and immediately began clashing with Carey.



Previous 'Idol' Judges:


Over the years, many judges have come and gone, but none had the staying power of Randy Jackson, the Grammy Award-winning music producer who helped launch American Idol and turn it into the cultural phenom it became. Jackson outlasted all other Idol judges before leaving in 2013 (after twelve seasons of "I don't know Dawg, I just gotta say..".)

Singer Paula Abdul and British music producer Simon Cowell were both judges on American Idol when the show premiered in 2002. Abdul left in 2009 and Cowell left the following year, replaced by Steven Tyler, who served for two seasons before being replaced by Keith Urban. Abdul was replaced on Idol by singer and producer Kara DioGuardi for two seasons, and later by comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres who was then replaced by Jennifer Lopez, the pop star who served as a judge for two seasons.

Who Hosts 'American Idol'?:


Since the beginning, American Idol has been hosted by Ryan Seacrest, who has used his role on the singing competition as a springboard to a remarkable career in the entertainment industry. He replaced Casey Kasem as host of American Top 40, the pop music radio countdown show and also hosts E! News. Seacrest's current contract runs out in 2012, opening questions to whether he will continue on American Idol or move on to another opportunity.

Brian Dunkleman co-hosted Idol for the first season, since then Seacrest has had the gig to himself.

In 2010 Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records joined American Idol as a mentor to the 12 final competitors.


Who Produces 'American Idol'?:


American Idol was created and is executive-produced by British musician manager and television producer, Simon Fuller. The other producers involved in the show are executive producers Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Ken Warwick of FremantleMedia North America and So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lythgoe, President, Big Red 2 Entertainment.


When Does 'American Idol' Air?:


American Idol airs on Fox Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7PM Central.


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