Talent to get more time on American Idol

Mon Dec 15, 2008 5:42pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "American Idol" will focus less on early auditions and give more time to performers who make it to Hollywood when the top-rated U.S. television talent show returns to the air in January, producers said on Monday.

The 2009 season also sees the addition of a fourth judge and the return of the popular "wild card" round for contestants vying to get a coveted place among the final twelve singers who compete against each other on the program.

But Paula Abdul is "worth her weight in gold" and in no danger of losing her place as a judge, executive producer Ken Warwick said in telephone conference with journalists.

As the five-month long search for a new pop star enters its 8th season, audiences have slipped from an average of 30.8 million per episode in 2006 to 28.1 million in 2008.

But Warwick said American TV audiences had fallen across the board last year. "There were no panic changes...I expect the (audience) figures will probably drop a bit more, but I'm not ashamed because we have eight years of success behind us," he told journalists on a telephone conference call.

Since its inception in 2002, "American Idol" has produced bona fide stars such as Kelly Clarkson, country singer Carrie Underwood and Oscar-winning singer/actress Jennifer Hudson.

Warwick added that producers had tweaked the format slightly for the new season "to make it more interesting."

The two-night, four-hour premiere on the Fox network January 13 will be the first show since the apparent suicide in November of an obsessed Abdul fan and former "Idol" hopeful.   Continued...

<p>American Idol contestants pictured at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, May 24, 2006. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello</p>