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Songwriters can now be ‘Idols’ too

Next winner will perform song chosen by viewers
/ Source: The Associated Press

“American Idol” knows that bad can be good, but not always.

Untalented singers who fail spectacularly in the early auditions are so bad they make for good television. Forcing talented finalists to perform such forgettable tunes as “Do I Make You Proud”? That’s just plain awful.

To remedy this flaw in Fox’s hit TV show, which begins its sixth season Tuesday and Wednesday, a song-writing competition to be decided by viewers is in the works.

“At the end of it, the country will not only have the singer they want, they’ll have the song they want,” said Ken Warwick, a series executive producer.

Details of the song contest are in flux but the intent is to make it happen, said Warwick and others connected with the show. The newest “American Idol” will be crowned in May.

Given the well-oiled machine that TV’s No. 1 series has become, is it odd that the contest and its mechanics haven’t been locked in place by now? No, said Warwick.

Attention has gone to completing the early episodes, he said, while “what we’re talking about here is something that won’t happen until slightly later on.”

It may also be a matter of discretion.

“We are very close to putting it (the song contest) in place,” Martha Brass, executive vice president for series producer 19 Entertainment, said from London.

“It’s just a question of not wanting to get it out there too soon so that we lose enthusiasm and momentum,” Brass said. “Given there are five months left, we want to make sure that we introduce it at the right time.”

Finale songs have been awfulBut it needs to happen, said Paula Abdul, part of the three-judge panel that narrows the initial field of singing contestants. The trio doesn’t weigh in on the tune that serves as the winner’s first single, and until now the audience that picks the new idol hasn’t either.

“I just want the poor contestant who wins to be happy to sing a song that radio’s going to play,” Abdul said. “It automatically goes to No. 1 because of sales ... but radio has decided ‘ixnay’ on the finale song.”

Warwick agrees that the tunes written for the finalists have been wanting. They’ve been chosen by 19 Entertainment, which produces “American Idol” with FremantleMedia North America, and Sony BMG. The winner’s record contract, signed with 19 Entertainment’s 19 Recordings, is licensed to Sony BMG.

“Kelly Clarkson’s ‘A Moment Like This’ (in season one) knocked us out, but since then it’s been a bit blank,” Warwick said.

The planned contest gives those who believe they can put music and lyrics together the chance at an instant hit.

As Brass tentatively sketched it, submissions could be uploaded on a site reached through and reviewed by series executive producer (and original “Pop Idol” creator) Simon Fuller and music industry experts.

A “manageable” number of songs could be posted on the site for the public to hear and vote on, she said. The finalists — Warwick said they might number a dozen songs — may be performed on “American Idol” or on a Fox special by contestants from past seasons, Brass said.

Other elements of the new season will be familiar to viewers, including returning host Ryan Seacrest and the sparring among judges Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. It got an early start: After Cowell was quoted questioning the need for guest judges (Jewel is among this season’s), Abdul told the AP that the acerbic Brit “doesn’t like sharing the spotlight.”

Warwick described the panel as a “dysfunctional family,” one that sometimes distresses him with its behavior but which others seem to find consistently entertaining.

Abdul will “say something so damn ridiculous it affects our credibility and I go, ‘Oh, my God, I’m embarrassed to hell.’ But the next day I’ll be talking to someone in the industry and they’ll say, ‘I loved it!”’

Part of the mix again this year will be guest performers. Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, Prince and others have visited in the past and the bar will remain high, Warwick promised.

“We have a huge (episode) when we get down to the six finalists,” he said. “I can’t divulge too much ... but we’re talking big names, big occasion, a big event.”

For some viewers, the show’s charm lies in the thrillingly untalented singers, such as William (“She Bangs”) Hung, who test the judges’ patience in the early rounds.

Brace yourself for some classics on Wednesday’s show (8-10 p.m. EST) from Washington state, Warwick said.

“If you don’t watch any other episode this year, watch Seattle. Seattle is just the funniest place we have ever been to in our lives: We are shocked and appalled and amazed and hysterical over it.”

Don’t expect an obvious winner like Carrie Underwood, who handily took the 2005 contest, to emerge this year. Even the judges agree on that.

“Simon and I have been saying it’s more like season one,” Jackson told reporters recently. “I think it’s going to be someone who grows during competition.”

Said Abdul: “There’s no clear front-runner as far as I’m concerned.”