American Idol Changes it Up for Season Eight

idol American Idol Changes it Up for Season EightHoping to stave off declining ratings (last season’s dropped by 7 percent), American Idol has unveiled a few rule changes and other goodies to spice things up for the eighth season, slated to premiere January 13. Earlier this year Fox announced a fourth judge for the show—songwriter Kara DioGuardi (who’s written tunes for Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Idol-alum Kelly Clarkson, among others). Then today, USA Today and billboard.com are reporting that the show is upping the number of semifinalists from 24 to 36, and that it will bring back the wild-card round—which allows ousted contestants to try out again for one of three slots in the top 12—for the first time since Season 3. (We have the wild card to thank for saving Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson.) Much to our chagrin, though, the Idol Gives Back charity event is taking a break this season. Looks like we’ll have to wait till next year…

To demonstrate the show’s renewed commitment to rewarding talent rather than mocking attention-seekers, Idol is also cutting an audition week to make room for a second Hollywood-round episode. Though, as Idol executive producer Ken Warwick assures us, Simon Cowell and co. won’t pull any punches when it comes to those infamous auditions. "If the judges are mean, the judges are mean.” Otherwise, why have judges at all?