LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A rule change giving "American Idol" judges the power of veto for the first time in the talent show's seven-year history divided fans and TV critics on Thursday, with some calling it "un-American".
The "Judges' Save", announced Wednesday night, gives the four-person panel on U.S. television's most-watched show the power to save one contestant from elimination by the public just once during a season.
The judges must be unanimous and the new rule only applies until the contest narrows to the final five singers.
For a show whose appeal rests largely on its viewer-driven voting format, the change was seen as radical and unexpected.
Raising a "Bravo" for the producers, MSNBC.com entertainment producer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper felt that taking a little power away from viewers was "a good thing."
"I trust (the judges') experienced musical judgment a little bit more than I trust the texting power of the audience," Cooper wrote in a comment column.
But Time.com's James Poniewozik called it bad TV, said it spoiled the elimination outrage fun, and dubbed it "un-American (Idol)".
"To the extent that 'Idol' sells itself as an exercise in democracy, in which you choose your next pop star, it needs to be pure," Poniewozik wrote in a blog on Thursday.
Idol producers said the "Judges' Save" was intended to avoid past situations which have seen the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry voted off early by viewers, who cast millions of votes by phone and text message.
Both singers went on to launch successful music careers with Hudson winning an Oscar for her best supporting actress role in the 2006 movie musical "Dreamgirls."
But avid fans were quick to note that the new rule would not have helped Daughtry, who was in fourth place when viewers booted him off in 2006.
"This rule is awful, it kills a lot of the suspense, de-motivates people to vote, and doesn't accomplish much," wrote Barbara from Chicago in a posting on the testpattern.msnbc.msn.com Web site.
But the twist was welcomed by contestants Jasmine Murray, 16, and Puerto Rico's Jorge Nunez, despite their early exit from the show after the judges declined to save them on Wednesday evening.
"I think it is a really good thing. There are people who should have gone further and I think it's going to help in the competition," Nunez told reporters in a telephone conference call on Thursday.
Murray disagreed with the suggestion that "Idol" producers had lost trust in America's choices. "I don't think so. I think it is a good idea. America really gets to decide the total outcome."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte