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the women of american idol

American Idol is a television show featured on the Fox Network in the United States, based on the popular British show Pop Idol. The show is a competition in which viewers can call in and vote on contestants to determine the best "undiscovered" young singer in the United States, with the winner receiving a major record deal, although some runners-up have achieved enough fame to ink record deals of their own.

American Idol is produced by Fremantle North America which is owned by German Bertelsmann AG. Each contestant gets a contract with one of Bertelsmann's many music labels because Bertelsmann owns a 50/50 stake in Sony BMG. Fremantle North America is also owned by Nintendo (50%).

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Early auditions
In the show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, hopeful contestants, after being screened by preliminary panels which select for singing talent or humorous potential and human interest, audition before three judges (Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson) in cities across the United States (sometimes a celebrity fourth judge is added). These are generally held at large convention centers where thousands of people wait in line for auditions. In order to be eligible, the contestants are not permitted to have any current recording or talent management agreements (but may have had one at some point in the past). Based on turnout and availability, producers select a certain number from the crowd to audition before the three judges (this may take several rounds). Contestants are required to sing a cappella. Those who impress a majority of the judges move on to the second round auditions which take place in Hollywood (typically only several dozen out of the thousands in each city move on). The contestants selected despite lack of singing talent for appearance before the panel provide a major attraction to the viewing audience as they simultaneously proclaim their talent while turning out gut-wrenching performances which are ridiculed by the judges.

One of the most popular portions of each season are initial episodes showcasing American Idol hopefuls auditioning before the panel of judges. These early episodes focus mainly on the poorest performances from contestants who often appear oblivious to their lack of star talent. These "contestants" have been selected by the preliminary panels in a negative sense, a typical combination is lack of singing ability combined with vanity regarding their "talent." Others are selected for human interest potential, the 2005 auditions featured a "cannibal" who had sampled human flesh in an anthropology class and an aspiring female prize fighter. Poor singers often face intense and humbling criticism from the judges, and especially from Cowell, who can be harsh and blunt in his rejections. Typically the judges express disgust or dismay or suppressed laughter. Some poor performances have attained notoriety on their own; these have included season two's performance of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" by Keith Beukelaer and season three's rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" by William Hung.

Contestants must be U.S. citizens and, for the first three seasons, had to be 16 to 24 years of age. For the fourth season, the upper age limit was raised to 28 to attract more mature and diverse contestants. In early 2003, a 50-year-old college professor named Drew Cummings filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the show with age discrimination because producers denied him an audition due to his age. His case was not taken up by the EEOC.

On to Hollywood
Once in Hollywood, the three judges narrow the initial field of several hundred down to a group of 24 semifinalists, divided equally between men and women, who are invited to perform in the live portions of the show. On three consecutive weeks, the male semifinalists perform only against the other men, and the women only against the other women. Each contestant performs live (in the eastern and central time zones), in primetime, a song of his or her choice, and receives critiques from the judges, who, from this point on, serve almost entirely in an advisory capacity, with little direct influence on the results.

Viewers have two hours following the broadcast of the show in their time zone to phone in votes for their favorite contestant by calling a toll-free number (viewers may also send text messages to vote). Callers are allowed to vote as many times as they like for any number of contestants. On the following night's episode the results of the nationwide vote are announced, and the bottom two vote-getters are eliminated each week. At the end of the semifinal rounds, the six men and six women who remain advance to the finals.

During the middle seasons, the semifinal round consisted of 32 semifinalists who were divided into four groups of eight. In the first season, they were 30 contestants, divided into three groups of ten. Each week for four (three for season one) weeks, one group would perform with the top two (three for season one) vote-getters from each group advancing to the finals. When all the semifinal shows had been completed, there was a wildcard phase. Each judge chose one semifinalist to advance to the final round, and a studio audience vote determined the final wildcard spot, rounding out the field of twelve finalists. In season 1, 5 contestants were chosen, and judges chose one to advance to the finals. This was changed to the procedure (see above) in the 4th season due to the abundace of females (and no males left in the final 4) in the third season.

Semifinalists (and in some cases, other contestants as well) must submit to background checks and may be summarily disqualified for past behavior deemed undesirable, such as an arrest record. Several finalists have been disqualified for revelations that surfaced late in the competition. Semifinalists are also subjected to drug tests, in order to avoid scandals involving drug usage. Contestants who failed the test have not been allowed to proceed in the competion.

Also contestants are contracted to be "conclaved" from the outside world. This stops contestants from using cell phones (unless between family members or during an emergency), the Internet (especially chatting and message boards), leaving the Hollywood jurisdiction, leaving their apartments without consent, watching TV (especially News and Sports), listening to radio stations, and reading newspapers during their duration in the competition. This is to keep the contestants safe from terrorists, epidemics, paparazzi, and to distance contestants from distractions that might be detrimental to their singing ability. The only time when a contestant can be free from this rule as if he or she gets voted out. They can however watch movies, since they have no known distracting effect on the contestants.

Final twelve
In the finals, which last eleven weeks, each finalist performs a song live in primetime from a weekly theme (two songs in later rounds). Themes have included Motown, disco, big band music, and Billboard #1 hits. Some themes are based on music recorded by a particular artist, and the finalists have a chance to work with that artist in preparing their performances. Artists around whom themes have been based include Barry Manilow, Gloria Estefan, and Elton John.

When there are three finalists remaining, themes are no longer used. Instead, each contestant sings three songs: one of their own choice, one chosen by the judges, and one chosen by record executive Clive Davis. However in Season Two, in the final three, one song was chosen randomly from a bowl, with one chosen by the performer and one by the judges.

In any case, each week on the following night's live "results" episode, the contestant with the fewest votes is sent home. The bottom three vote-getters are separated from the remaining contestants. Over the course of the episode, two are revealed as being "safe" for the week, and the loser is sent home after performing one final song to end the episode. This process is repeated each week until the one remaining contestant is declared the winner.

A spin-off series called American Juniors premiered on June 3, 2003 on the Fox Network.

In December 2003, winners of eleven different national Idol competitions were collected for a World Idol competition in London, which aired in all territories that show the format. Kelly Clarkson came in second after Norway's Kurt Nilsen.

The Fox network is scheduled to air the program Celebrity Idol with all celebrity contestants in the fall of 2005, just ahead of the launch of the fifth season of the regular show. The announcement came only days after NBC publicized the upcoming show I'm a Celebrity but I Want to be a Pop Star with a remarkably similar premise.

Season synopses
The number next to a contestant's name denotes the number of times he or she was in the "Bottom Three".

Season one
Season 1 Finalists
(with dates of elimination)

Season 1 (2002)

Kelly Clarkson winner

Justin Guarini September 4

Nikki McKibbin August 28

Tamyra Gray August 21

RJ Helton August 14

Christina Christian August 7

Ryan Starr July 31

A.J. Gil July 24

Jim Verraros July 17

EJay Day July 17

In the first season the show was co-hosted by Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman. Kelly Clarkson won, with Justin Guarini coming in second. Numerous television specials starring the ten finalists followed, as well as the box office bomb entitled From Justin to Kelly. Since winning, Clarkson has gone on to a very successful recording career, including multiple-platinum albums and a number of Top 10 hit singles.

Season two
Season 2 (2003) Finalists
(with dates of elimination)

Ruben Studdard winner

Clay Aiken May 21

Kimberley Locke May 14

Joshua Gracin May 7

Trenyce April 30

Carmen Rasmusen April 23

Kimberly Caldwell April 16

Rickey Smith April 9

Corey Clark disqualified,

April 1

Julia DeMato March 26

Charles Grigsby March 19

Vanessa Olivarez March 12

In season two with Seacrest as the lone host, Ruben Studdard was the winner with Clay Aiken as runner up. Out of 24 million votes cast, Studdard finished just 130,000 votes ahead of Aiken, although there remains controversy over the validity of the reported results. Despite Studdard's win, Aiken has enjoyed more widespread popularity. Controversy arose when semi-finalist Frenchie Davis was booted from the show, after topless pictures she had taken four years before the show aired surfaced. The rumor mills were buzzing once again in 2005 when Season Two contestant Corey Clark, who was himself kicked off the show because of a police record he had not disclosed to the show, alleged that he had had an affair with judge Paula Abdul. Clark also alleged that Abdul gave him preferential treatment on the show because of their alleged romance.

Paul Anka made an appearance during the Season finale.

Season three
Season 3 Finalists
(with dates of elimination)

Fantasia Barrino winner

Diana DeGarmo May 26

Jasmine Trias May 19

LaToya London May 12

George Huff May 5

John Stevens April 28

Jennifer Hudson April 21

Jon Peter Lewis April 15

Camile Velasco April 7

Amy Adams March 31

Matthew Rogers March 24

Leah LaBelle March 17

The third season of American Idol premiered on January 19, 2004. After a nationwide vote of more than 65 million votes in total, Fantasia Barrino won the "American Idol" title and Diana DeGarmo was runner up. During the season, controversy over the legitimacy of the contest increased as geeky rocker Jon Peter Lewis and young crooner John Stevens stayed afloat while others were unexpectedly eliminated. The third season was also shown in Australia on Network Ten about half a week after episodes were shown in the US.

Paul Anka made an appearance in the Season Finale.

Season four
Season 4 Finalists
(with dates of elimination)

Carrie Underwood winner

Bo Bice May 25

Vonzell Solomon May 18

Anthony Fedorov May 11

Scott Savol May 4

Constantine Maroulis April 27

Anwar Robinson April 20

Nadia Turner April 13

Nikko Smith April 6

Jessica Sierra March 30

Mikalah Gordon March 24

Lindsey Cardinale March 16

The fourth season of American Idol premiered on January 18, 2005. Auditions were held in Washington, DC, St. Louis, Missouri, New Orleans, Louisiana, Las Vegas, Nevada, Cleveland, Ohio, Orlando, Florida and San Francisco, California. Auditions were held from August to October 2004. While in the past seasons celebrity guest judges have been invited to participate during the competition, this was the first season where guest judges were invited to participate in the auditions. The music celebrities featured were:

January 18, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray

January 25, Gene Simmons of KISS

January 26, Kenny Loggins

February 1, LL Cool J

February 2, Brandy

Among the music featured in the program: on January 19, 2005, "Look At Me" written by Sara Hickman and performed by her 8-year-old daughter Lily (from the album Big Kid).

The most notable contestant in the early episodes was Mary Roach, who auditioned in Washington D.C. Her rendition of Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move", as well as her comments to the judges that followed her audition, brought considerable negative attention (including false rumors of mental illness) and comparisons to William Hung.

Also noted was Leroy Wells from Grand Bay, Alabama who auditioned in New Orleans singing Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money". He acquired mild fame by repeatedly yelling, "Can you dig it?" to the judges and for the inability of the judges (except Randy) to fully understand him.

This season also implemented new rules for the final portion of the contest. Instead of competing in semifinal heats in which the top vote-getters are promoted to the final round, 24 semifinalists were named -- 12 men and 12 women, who competed separately, with 2 of each gender being voted off each week until 12 finalists were left.

Mario Vazquez, who was originally one of the top 12, dropped out of the competition on March 11, just days before the top 12's first performance, citing "personal issues," opening a spot in the final 12 for Nikko Smith, who had been voted off in the semi-finals the previous week.

The winner was Carrie Underwood, the first winner since Kelly Clarkson to not only win but avoid being in the bottom two or three for the entire competition.

For the May 18 final three show, a guest judge, legendary record producer Clive Davis was added. He chose the first song each performer would sing, many of which he produced in his career. The second song the performers chose any song from any era. In an unprecedented move, Bo Bice performed his choice completely a cappella. For the third and final song of the night, one of the standard judges (Jackson, Abdul or Cowell) chose each contestant's selection. Vonzell Solomon was the 10th contestant voted off the Top 12 on Wednesday May 18th.

The fourth season finale featuring Bo Bice and Carrie Underwood aired May 24-May 25. It featured appearances by former auditioners of questionable talent, and celebrity cameos by Kenny G, Rascal Flatts, David Hasselhoff, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, George Benson, Billy Preston, Babyface and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The winner of the competition was Carrie Underwood.

Season five
The fifth season of American Idol will be held starting in January 2006 with auditions expected to be in the summer and early autumn of 2005.

As of now, the current list of cities (tentative) are Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Memphis and San Diego. One or two more cities may also be added later as there are usually late additions to the list.

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