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‘American Idol’ tweaks its format

Semifinal competition to air three nights a week this season
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

“American Idol,” which opens its fourth season on Jan. 18, is making some changes to the format of the highly popular reality show, according to USA Today.

Fox will expand to three-nights of live performances a week during the semifinal rounds. The semifinals, which begins Monday, Feb. 21, will be cut from five weeks to three, and the competitors will be cut down from 32 to 24. The 24 will be divided into groups of 12 men and 12 women. On the Monday and Tuesday shows, the men and then the women will perform and the public will vote. On Wednesdays, two men and two women will be eliminated.

The final 12 will be selected on Wednesday, March 9 and the show will return to two nights a week.

Celebrity judges will not be used during the final round this season. According to USA Today, fans found them too distracting. Musicians such as Gene Simmons, LL Cool J, Brandy and Kenny Loggins will join judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson during the audition rounds, however, according to USA Today.

In the early rounds, the audition process will expand to 10 installments over five weeks. The show will air six hours of competition from the various audition cities and four hours of the auditions that send the would-be Idols to Hollywood. The producers also have expanded the age limit (16-28).

The much-maligned phone voting system will remain for another season, however.

"We want to make sure the show, whenever it can, gets as fresh as it can," executive producer Ken Warwick told the paper. "We're doing a little, but not too much. The show works, so we don't want to overfix it."