Number of Seasons: 14

American Idol is a reality show/singing competition created by Simon Fuller and produced by 19 Entertainment, and distributed by FremantleMedia North America. It began airing on Fox on June 11, 2002, as an addition to the Idol franchise based on the UK show Pop Idol and has since become one of the most successful shows in the history of American television. For an unprecedented eight consecutive years, from the 2003–04 television season through the 2010–11 season, either its performance or result show had been ranked number one in U.S. television ratings.

The concept of the series is to find new solo recording artists where the winner is determined by the viewers. The series employs a panel of judges who critique the contestants' performances. The original judges were record producer and music manager Randy Jackson, pop singer and choreographer Paula Abdul and music executive and manager Simon Cowell. The current season's judging panel consists of Randy Jackson, R&B singer Mariah Carey, hip hop artist Nicki Minaj, and country singer Keith Urban. Radio personality Ryan Seacrest is the emcee of the show.

The series was described by a rival TV executive as "the most impactful show in the history of television. It has also become a recognized springboard for launching the career of many artists as bona fide stars. According to Billboard, in its first ten years, "Idol has spawned 345 Billboard chart-toppers and a platoon of pop idols, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert and Jordin Sparks while remaining TV ratings juggernaut."

American Idol was created based on the British show Pop Idol, which was in turn inspired by Popstars, a show TV producer Nigel Lythgoe saw in Australia and brought over to Britain. Using the idea from Popstars of employing a panel of judges to select singers in audition, then adding other elements such as telephone voting by the viewing public (which at the time was already in use in shows such as the Eurovision Song Contest) and the drama of backstories and real-life soap opera unfolding in real time, Simon Fuller then created Pop Idol. The show debuted in 2001 in Britain with Lythgoe as the producer and Simon Cowell as one of the judges, and was a big success with the viewing public.

Fuller and Cowell attempted to sell the Pop Idol format to the U.S. in 2001, but the idea was met with poor response from U.S. TV networks. However, Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox's parent company, was persuaded to buy the show by his daughter Elisabeth, who was a fan of the British show. The show was renamed American Idol: The Search for a Superstar and debuted in the summer of 2002, and became one of the summer hit shows that year. The show, with the personal engagement of the viewers with the contestants through voting, and the presence of the caustic-tongue judge Simon Cowell, grew into a phenomenon. By 2004 it had become the biggest show on U.S. TV, a position it then held on for seven straight years.

Format and Stages

In a series of steps, the show selects the eventual winner out of many tens of thousands of contestants. The eligible age-range for contestants is currently 15 to 28 years old. The initial age limit was 16 to 24 in the first three seasons, but the upper limit was raised to 28 in season four, and the lower limit was reduced to 15 in season 10. The contestants must be legal U.S. residents, cannot have advanced to particular stages of the competition in previous seasons (varies depending on the season, currently by the semi-final stage), and must not hold any current recording or talent representation contract by the semi-final stage.

There are four stages on the show:


Contestants go through at least three sets of cuts. The first is a brief audition with a few other contestants in front of selectors which may include one of the show's producers. Although auditions can exceed 10,000 in each city, only a few hundred of these make it past the preliminary round of auditions. Successful auditions then sing in front of producers where more may be cut. Only then can they proceed to audition in front of the judges, which is the only audition stage shown on television. Those selected by the judges are sent to Hollywood. Between 10–60 people in each city may make it to Hollywood.

Hollywood week and Las Vegas round

Once in Hollywood, the contestants perform individually or in groups in a series of rounds. Until season ten, there were usually three rounds of eliminations in Hollywood. In the first round the contestants emerged in groups but performed individually. For the next round, the contestants put themselves in small groups and perform a song together. In the final round, the contestants perform solo with a song of their choice, either a cappella or accompanied by a band—depending on the season. In seasons two and three, contestants were also asked to write original lyrics or melody in an additional round after the first round. In season seven, the group round was eliminated and contestants may, after a first solo performance and on judges approval, skip a second solo round and move directly to the final Hollywood round. In season 12 they split up the girls and guys. Then the executive producers choose the members to form the groups in the group round.

Starting in season ten, a further round was added in Las Vegas where the contestants perform in groups based on a theme, followed by one final solo round to determine the semi-finalists. At the end of this stage of the competition, 24 to 36 contestants are selected to move on to the semi-final stage. In season 12, they started something new; instead of doing the groups, they split up 20 guys and 20 girls into 4 groups, two girl groups of 10 and two boy groups of 10. Then, the judges decided on five from each group to make the top 20.

Audience voting

From the semifinal onwards, the fate of the contestants is decided by public vote. During the contestant's performance as well as the recap at the end, a toll-free telephone number for each contestant is displayed on the screen. For a two-hour period after the episode ends (up to four hours for the finale) in each US time zone, viewers may call or send a text message to their preferred contestant's telephone number, and each call or text message is registered as a vote for that contestant. Viewers are allowed to vote as many times as they can within the two-hour voting window, however, the show reserves the right to discard votes by power dialer. One or more of the least popular contestants may be eliminated in successive weeks until a winner emerges. Over 110 million votes were cast in the first season, and by season ten the seasonal total had increased to nearly 750 million. Voting via text messaging was made available in the second season when AT&T Wireless joined as a sponsor of the show, and 7.5 million text messages were sent to American Idol that season. The number of text messages rapidly increased, reaching 178 million texts by season eight. Online voting was offered for the first time in season ten. The votes are counted and verified by Telescope Inc.


From seasons one to three, the semifinalists were split into different groups to perform individually in their perspective nights. The top 30 semifinalists in season one were split into three groups of ten, with the top three in each proceeding to the finals. In seasons two and three, the top 32 semifinalists were split into four groups of eight semifinalists, with the top two of each group selected to proceed to the finals. These first three seasons were the first to feature the wildcard round, wherein those who failed to qualify were given another chance. Only one wildcard was chosen by the judges to form the top ten, while four wildcards – three chosen by the judges with another by public vote – result to form the top 12 in seasons two and three.

From seasons four to seven and nine, the 24 semi-finalists were divided by gender in order to ensure an equal gender division in the top 12. The men and women sang separately on consecutive nights, and the bottom two in each groups were eliminated each week until only six of each remained to form the top 12. No wildcard rounds were featured in these seasons.

The wildcard rounds were returned in seasons eight, ten and eleven. In season eight, the 36 semifinalists were grouped into 3 groups of 12, with the top 3 advancing to the finals – the highest male and female contestants, and the next highest placed contestant. Four wildcards of the judges' choice were made to fill the top 13. In seasons 10 and 11, the 24 (25 in season 8) semifinalists were split into gender groups and five of each chosen, with the judges picking the three wildcards to produce a final 13. No wildcard round was again featured in season 12, wherein the top 20 semifinalists were again split into gender groups, with only five in each gender group advancing to form the final 10.


The finals are broadcast in prime time from CBS Television City in Los Angeles, in front of a live studio audience. The finals lasted eight weeks in season one, eleven weeks in subsequent seasons until seasons ten and eleven which lasted twelve weeks. Each finalist performs songs based on a weekly theme which may be a musical genre such as Motown, disco, or big band, songs by artists such as Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley or The Beatles, or more generic themes such as Billboard Number 1 hits or songs from the contestant's year of birth. Contestants usually work with a celebrity mentor related to the theme. In season ten, Jimmy Iovine was brought in as a mentor for the season. Initially the contestants sing one song each week, but this is increased to two songs from top four or five onwards, then three songs for the top two or three.

The most popular contestants are usually not revealed in the results show, instead typically the three contestants (two in later rounds) who received the lowest number of votes are called to the center of the stage. One of these three is sent to safety, the two remaining however need not both be ones with the fewest votes. The contestant with the fewest votes is then revealed and eliminated from the competition. A montage of the eliminated contestant is played and they give their final performance. However, starting in season eight, the judges may overturn viewers' decision with a "Judges' Save" – they can save a contestant on a unanimous decision, but two will be eliminated the following week, except for season 11 when only one was sent home after the save. The save can only be used once, and only before top five.

In the finale, the two remaining contestants perform to determine the winner. For the first six seasons, apart from season two, the finale was broadcast from the Kodak Theatre, which has an audience capacity of approximately 3,400. The finale for season two took place at the Gibson Amphitheatre, which has an audience capacity of over 6,000. From season seven onwards, the venue was changed to the Nokia Theatre, which holds an audience of over 7,000. A special two-hour results show the next night follows where the winner is announced at the end.

Rewards for winner and finalists

The winner receives a record deal with a major label, which may be for up to six albums and secures a management contract with American Idol-affiliated 19 Management (which has the right of first refusal to sign all contestants), as well as various lucrative contracts. All winners prior to season nine reportedly earned at least $1 million in their first year as winner. All the runners-up of the first ten seasons, as well as some of other finalists, have also received record deals with major labels. However, starting in season 11, the runner-up may only be guaranteed a single-only deal. BMG/Sony (seasons 1–9) and UMG (season 10–) had the right of first refusal to sign contestants for three months after the season's finale. Prominent music mogul Clive Davis also produced some of the selected contestants' albums, such as Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo. All top 10 (11 in season 10) finalists earn the privilege of going on a tour where the participants may each earn a six-figure sum.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org