Pop Culture

Report: ‘Idol’ to make changes in 2009

"American Idol" will have several changes to its format when it debuts in mid-January, according to an internal Fox memo posted online.

The memo reveals that for its semifinal round, "American Idol 8" will have 36 instead of 24 contestants; the audition episodes will be reduced while the pre-semifinal Hollywood round episodes will be increased; the wild card round will return, giving eliminated contestants the chance to compete for one of the top 12 finalist spots; the show's focus on "bad singers" will be minimized; and “Idol Gives Back,” the show's charity telethon, will not air this year.

The memo, identified as the FOX Network Program Executive Council December 2008 minutes, was published by MJ's Big Blog, a site focusing on "American Idol" news that's run by Boston-based computer network administrator MJ Santilli.

Santilli says she got the memo after "(a) regular reader of the blog posted (it) in comments.  She's posted memos before that turned out to be legit."

The memo also revealed that "there will be a couple of more 2-hour shows than in the past" and that the series' "promotional thrust will have fewer bad singers and more 'aspirational' singers."

Although the memo says no Thursday episodes are planned, the show will have the "same overall number of hours as last year," but with some changes to those episodes' focus. Last spring, the Hollywood round was reduced to two episodes instead of three; season eight will likely have four episodes, since two episodes air every week and the memo says "there will be 3 weeks of auditions and 2 weeks of Hollywood rounds." The change in the audition episodes schedule means there will be three weeks of audition episodes; last year, there were four.

The document also revealed that the series' "promotional thrust will have fewer bad singers and more 'aspirational' singers."

Fox is currently airing one promotion for the show that features winner David Cook dreaming about his experience on the show, and another that suggests a bad female singer was advanced in the competition because of her physical appearance.

"Idol Gives Back" has aired over two nights for each of the past two seasons, but last spring, executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz told the Associated Press that she wanted the charity event "to take a break, personally. ... I think that's the right amount of time. I don't think you should go back to the country and ask them to donate every single year. I think it's too much. Every two years to me feels right."

Previously, "American Idol," which is the top-rated television program in the United States, announced it was adding a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi.

Season eight debuts Jan. 13.

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