No, American Idol, which returns for its fourth season January 18, isn't replacing metrosexual host Ryan Seacrest with Sean Connery, but the top-rated show on television last year has made some changes including dedicating half of the 24 semifinalist spots to men:
- The age ceiling for contestants has been raised by four years to 28 to encourage diversity. Older singers "have had a lot more highs and lows in their life" and are more intense, said Seacrest.
*The audition rounds, in which the talented and hapless do their a cappella best, will last longer, three weeks vs. two weeks. Contestants will be culled further in two weeks of episodes taped in Los Angeles. "We're going into some of these people's homes, into their lives, follow their journey a bit more," Frot-Coutaz said. "Audition shows will get out of the audition room a bit more."
*Celebrity judges will be part of the audition segments for the first time but will have less of a presence during the studio episodes. Room would be made for a big-name artist — Paul McCartney is No. 1 on the most-wanted list — whose music is part of the competition, a la the Barry Manilow bonanza last season.
*Performance and live elimination rounds will begin Feb. 21, five weeks into the season (compared to four weeks last year). The 24 semifinalists will be pared to 12 during a three-week period in which the show will air three times a week. The men compete in one, the women in another, with results announced the third day.
Cross-gender competition begins March 15, when the program returns to twice-weekly airings, with the finale May 24-25. [AP]
I'll say what I say before each season starts: I don't know if I'm willing to invest the time and emotion in the show this time around, but who the hell knows?
To get yourself revved, check out preview clips here.