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How do ‘Idol’ singers choose their songs?

How do "American Idol" singers choose their songs? How much are they paid on the "Idol" tour? Has the idea of a cold-weather "Survivor" thawed out? Plus: Shows you'd like to see.
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Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "Real World" or another show, . Gael Fashingbauer Cooper,'s Television Editor, and Andy Dehnart, creator of ,will try to answer them.

Before you send in your question, — you may be able to get your answer right away.

Q: I’m wondering about the song choice process on “Idol.” Do contestants have a theme-based list from which to choose their songs, or do they have the freedom to choose whichever song they’d like? I’m sure there are certain restrictions based on [copyright] issues as well, but am still curious.    —Laurie, New York

A: Often on “American Idol,” contestants are criticized for their song choice. While deciding what song to perform is very important, the contestants actually only have one hour to pick their song for the following week.

The process starts on Thursdays, when contestants “get a CD with snippets of 50 to 200 songs that fit in the category,” according to The Washington Post, which reported on the contestants’ earlier this season.

However, contestants from previous seasons have revealed that they can select any song that fit into that theme, including those not on the CD. Still, the show’s producers have to secure permission to perform the song, and sometimes, songwriters, artists, or labels say no. Specifically, the show must secure both the right to perform the song, and the right to synchronize it (basically, to include it with televised images of the contestant performing).

After the song is selected, it’s condensed and edited, and then scored for the band to play. That’s when the song is ready to be given new life — or butchered — in front of an audience of millions.    —A.D.

Q: There is lots of talk on “American Idol” about wanting to be in the Top 10 to make the Idol Tour. Is it really that profitable for the singers? Do all the singers get paid the same, or do those who last longer on the show get paid more?    —Chris, North Carolina

A: First, the 12 “American Idol” finalists’ pay is a separate matter; the top 12 sign with TV union AFTRA and are paid at least $921 a week for each hour-long show, according to USA TODAY.

On tour, the stipend that the top 10 performers receive is not public, but rumors have placed the amount from $1,000 per show to $5,000 per show (that number was in reference to Ruben Studdard, the second-season winner, so perhaps the winners receive more).

Regardless, that’s still not much compared to other what non-“Idol” concert performers receive. Overall, the tour for “American Idol 5” made $35.2 million, according to Billboard, so there’s plenty of cash to go around.

But the real value of the tour seems to be the exposure. Almost 650,000 fans showed up, and that’s a lot of contact with fans and potential album-buyers. Contestants last year traveled to about 40 cities, which means invaluable media coverage.

They’re also getting experience that could help if the contestants are signed to a record label and tour by themselves. And, of course, performing well on the tour might encourage a record label to sign one of the finalists.    —A.D.

Update: We've been asked many times why "Survivor" always chooses a warm-weather location, and we . Namely, the cast couldn't show off their hot bods in bikinis and swim trunks, and more practically, frostbite can be more damaging and tougher to protect against than sun exposure.

But now host Jeff Probst is saying that show creator Mark Burnett is "leaning towards truly considering a colder climate." The that as it gets harder for the show to find locations it hasn't already used, cold-weather locations keep creeping back into the discussion. I still don't see it happening, but apparently the topic is in play.    —G.F.C.

Your comments: Not every e-mail sent to Ask the Reality TV Experts asks a question. Sometimes readers just want to comment on an issue involving reality TV, and sometimes the same issue crops up again and again. Here are some of your thoughts on reality shows you'd like to see:

CATASTROPHE SURVIVAL"Why have we not yet seen a show based on individual, group, or family quests for survival following a global or national catastrophe that would require people to survive in rural or urban settings with significantly reduced resources at their disposals, and a complete lack of government recovery services? A show based on the need for people to become totally self reliant, yet still remain morally and ethically credible in acheiving success in their endeavour? I'm just curious, because most of the so-called Reality shows on TV have little to do with the world we really live in, or soap-boxish in scope, tending to drag people down rather than lift them up."    --Bill

"Why don't you have a reality show (Bachelor or Bachelorette) for single parents? That would be wild. My husband and I met in college, both single with 3 daughters:) Now we have 6."    --Mari

REALITY SHOWS FOR THOSE 50+"Why don't more reality shows feature those of us who are 50+? There's plenty of life left and quite frankly we are interesting individuals who have had lots of experiences!"    --Barb

"I'd love to see a Bachelor or Bachelorette reality show that featured people over the age of 50. I think it would be hilarious since people that age are still interested in hooking up, but approach life with a different outlook than the buff 20 somethings that have appeared on all the other shows. Can you imagine the catfights behind the scenes when they are getting ready to go on a date? I don't watch the Bachelor shows anymore because they are so predictable and boring? Shake things up, will you?"    --Anonymous

"My husband and I are both devoted Amazing Race fans. My questions is "Have the producers considered doing an over-50 age-only race?" Most of the previous winners are young and athletic so we would enjoy seeing the competition and winners from our age bracket."    --Kathy

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.