'American Idol': A to Z

by AOL TV Staff, posted Jan 12th 2010 10:00AM

As we head into 'American Idol' season nine, it's time to look back -- and ahead -- at all the things that make up our favorite reality show, from A to Z.

A is for Auditions, which last for nearly six weeks until we get to the top 12 finalists of season 9. The show premieres Jan. 12, goes through auditions in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Dallas, Los Angeles and Denver until we reach the Hollywood rounds on Feb. 9 and meet the top 12 male and top 12 female semifinalists at the end of the Feb. 17 episode. And yes, that's 24 semifinalists, the way the show did it during seasons 4 through 7, unlike last year's cumbersome top 36. Check out the schedule for 'American Idol' season 9 at Inside TV.
As we head into 'American Idol' season nine, it's time to look back -- and ahead -- at all the things that make up our favorite reality show, from A to Z.

A is for Auditions, which last for nearly six weeks until we get to the top 12 finalists of season 9. The show premieres Jan. 12, goes through auditions in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Dallas, Los Angeles and Denver until we reach the Hollywood rounds on Feb. 9 and meet the top 12 male and top 12 female semifinalists at the end of the Feb. 17 episode. And yes, that's 24 semifinalists, the way the show did it during seasons 4 through 7, unlike last year's cumbersome top 36. Check out the schedule for 'American Idol' season 9 at Inside TV.

B is for Birmingham, Alabama, which produced two 'American Idol' winners: season 2's Ruben Studdard (remember his "205" shirts, which paid homage to his hometown's area code?) and season 5's Taylor Hicks. In fact, all but two of the eight 'Idol' winners -- Jordin Sparks from Arizona and David Cook from Missouri -- have been from the South.

C is for Celebrity guests, as in the long list of stars who've popped up on the show as performers, guest judges, 'Idol Gives Back' participants and contestant mentors. Among them: Adam Sandler, Alicia Keys, Andrea Bocelli, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Barack Obama, Ben Stiller, Bono, Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Green Day, Gwen Stefani, Hugh Grant, Jack Black, Jack Nicholson, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, Jon Bon Jovi, Kiefer Sutherland, Lady Gaga, LeBron James, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Matt Damon, Michael Bublé, Miley Cyrus, Quentin Tarantino, Rascal Flatts, Reese Witherspoon, Robin Williams, Shakira, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, Tom Cruise and Tony Bennett.

D is for DVR, as in your DVR might have stopped recording last season before capturing all the performances, thanks to certain 'AI' episodes that ran overtime. Most notably, many viewers missed one of Adam Lambert's defining performances, of Tears for Fears' 'Mad World,' when the April 7, 2009, show ran overtime by eight minutes and their DVRs clocked out at 9PM. 'AI' producers have addressed the issue in several pre-season 9 interviews and promise to make a more concerted effort to keep the show running on a tight, DVR-friendly schedule. Our advice: Add 10-15 minutes onto the recording time anyway.

E is for Ellen DeGeneres, the newest 'AI' judge. The talk show host has been the subject of criticism because she'll be the only judge without a music industry background, but as she points out, she's a huge music fan, and her experience as a stand-up comedian allows her to ferret out which contestants can wow the crowd with their stage presence. Besides, the prospect of the clever verbal sparring we can expect between DeGeneres and fellow judge Simon Cowell makes us giddy. Ellen -- who says that despite her reputation for being nice, she won't shy away from honest assessments of bad performances -- joins the show on Feb. 9, for the Hollywood rounds.

F is for 'Fantasia for Real,' the first celebreality series centered around an 'Idol' winner. The show, which premiered on VH1 Jan. 11 (10PM ET), follows the season 3 'AI' champ as she prepares to release a new album, get her GED, raise her daughter and convince the large contingent of family members she's supporting financially to get jobs.

G is for Grammys. Out of eight seasons' worth of 'American Idol' contestants so far, only three have won Grammy Awards in their post-'Idol' careers: Carrie Underwood with four (including Best New Artist in 2007), Kelly Clarkson with two and Jennifer Hudson with one. Hudson also, of course, is the only 'Idol' Oscar winner, nabbing the 2006 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for 'Dreamgirls,' which makes her only a Tony and an Emmy away from becoming the first 'American Idol' alum in the EGOT club.

H is for Humiliation, as in 'AI' scandals. From Corey Clark's ouster and subsequent claims of an affair with Paula Abdul, to Frenchie Davis and Antonella Barba's racy photos, to the season 2 finale where winner Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken were separated by just 133,000 votes (out of 24 million), to Paula Abdul's eight seasons of loopy behavior and eventual ouster, the show has weathered its fair share of controversies in eight seasons, as detailed in AOL TV's Biggest 'American Idol' Scandals.

I is for 'Idol Gives Back,' the 'AI' all-star charity special that premiered during the show's sixth season in 2007. Inspired by the 'Comic Relief' charity event on British TV, 'Idol Gives Back' brought together a slew of celebs for performances and appearances during two 'AI' episodes, while sponsors donated cash for African and American charities for every vote cast in that week's 'AI' round. Viewers could pledge donations via the phone and Internet. Ultimately, more than $70 million was raised in 2007, with another $60 million raised in 2008. Because of the economy, producers decided to forego the special in 2009, but 'Idol Gives Back' will return in season 9, on the April 21, 2010, episode.

J is for Judge's Save, the controversial new judge's power that was introduced on the show during season 8. 'AI' viewers were told that the judges would have the option of vetoing the elimination of one contestant during the season. The rules: The Judge's Save could only be used once, it had to be unanimous, it could only be used until the Final 5 round and if it was used, two contestants had to be voted off the following week. The judges did use the Save -- on Matt Giraud, who received the lowest vote total after his performance of 'Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?' by Bryan Adams. The next week, Giraud was voted through, but during the Top 5 round, he was voted off again. With fan reaction to the Judge's Save mixed -- especially since some felt it was a wasted save, as Giraud left two weeks later -- will it return in season 9? USA Today says it is likely to return, and judge Randy Jackson, in a Yahoo! interview, cheekily confirms the Judge's Save will "possibly" return.

K is for Kara DioGuardi, the singer/songwriter who became the fourth 'American Idol' judge in season 8. Reaction to DioGuardi was mixed, and continues to be as the show kicks off season 9 with another new judge (Ellen DeGeneres), but there's no denying that, as much as anyone on the judges' panel, DioGuardi speaks from experience, as, among her collaborations as a songwriter and music producer are Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Cook, David Archuleta, Leona Lewis, Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias. Read our defense of Kara DioGuardi.

L is for Losers, who are among the most successful 'American Idol' alums. In a list of the top five 'AI' alums with the most album sales, two of the five are not "Idol' champs. Season 5's fourth-place finisher, Chris Daughtry, is third on the list with more than 5.5 million albums sold, while season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken is fourth on the list with more than 4.8 million albums sold. Kellie Pickler, season 5's sixth-place finisher, and season 7 runner-up David Archuleta are also among the top 10 'AI' alum with the highest post-'Idol' album sales.

M is for Merchandise, as in 'American Idol' tie-ins like 'American Idol' Monopoly, the series of 'Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol' videogames, The American Idol Experience theme park attraction (where fans can actually go through an audition process and perform for a park crowd at Disney's Hollywood Studios), 'American Idol' DVDs, 'Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul' books, compilation CDs and iTunes singles, 'AI' party supplies and even 'American Idol' candy.

N is for NPH, Neil Patrick Harris, one of the guest judges for the early audition rounds of 'American Idol's' ninth season. A lineup of celeb guests was brought in to help regular judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi find the best auditioners from across the country, including Harris, Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Avril Lavigne, Joe Jonas, Shania Twain, Katy Perry and Kristin Chenoweth.

O is for One million dollars, the prize, along with a recording contract, for the 'American Idol' winner each season.

P is for Paula Abdul. After eight seasons, negotiations between 'Idol' and Abdul hit a snag, and after several weeks of back-and-forth between Fox, reps for Abdul and Abdul herself (via her Twitter account), it was announced on Sept. 9, 2009, that Ellen DeGeneres would officially replace Paula at the 'AI' judges table. Abdul, meanwhile, who was reportedly recording a new album, is rumored to be Simon Cowell's first choice to join him as a judge on his upcoming U.S. version of 'The X Factor.'

Q is for Quitter, as in the only contestant to drop out of the competition. During season 4, Mario Vazquez left the show, citing the cryptic "personal reasons" as his excuse; but two years later, he was named in a sexual harassment suit filed by an employee of the 'AI' production company.

R is for Ratings. 'American Idol' has been THE primetime ratings powerhouse for much of its eight-season run, but the show's ratings have been steadily decreasing for the last three seasons, particularly in the advertiser-favored 18-49 demographic. Season 8's finale, in fact, was the lowest-rated 'AI' season finale of all time among viewers 18-49, and the median age of viewers has increased from 32 years old for season 1 to 44 years old for season 8. Will viewers keep tuning in to see new judge Ellen DeGeneres replace Paula Abdul for season 9? Or will 'AI' ratings continue to erode?

S is for Song selection, which has become one of the most important factors that determines 'AI' contestants' success. The biggest mistake contestants make, again and again, is to choose a song they don't know or don't feel some sort of connection to. The best, most memorable performances -- think Fantasia's 'Summertime,' Adam Lambert's 'Mad World,' Chris Daughtry's 'Hemorrhage' and Bo Bice's 'Whipping Post' -- have resulted from the contestants' willingness to take a well-known song and put their own spin on it. Among the advice for 'AI' contestants from songwriters, at Songfacts.com: Make surprising song choices people will associate with you; make your arrangement unique; don't try to sing a Whitney Houston (or Mariah Carey) song like Whitney would; and avoid played-out tunes (anything from Journey, 'Unchained Medley,' 'Against All Odds').

T is for Theme nights. Among the music genre, eras and artists that have made up 'AI' theme nights: Motown, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s and '90s, the songs of Queen, big band, movie soundtrack songs, the songs of Elvis Presley, country music, Burt Bacharach love songs, disco, the songs of Billy Joel, songs of the Bee Gees, soul, songs of Elton John, classic Broadway tunes, songs from the contestants' birth years, British Invasion, American classics, the songs of The Beatles, the songs of Dolly Parton, Rat Pack standards, the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber and popular iTunes downloads.

U is for Underwood, Carrie, as in the most successful 'American Idol' winner. Since winning season 4, Underwood has released three albums and sold more than 11 million copies of them, more than any other 'AI' alum. Her first CD, 2005's 'Some Hearts,' is THE best-selling 'AI' alum album, with 6.9 million copies sold, enough to take the CD Platinum seven times. The second most successful 'Idol' alum, in record sales: season 1's Kelly Clarkson, whose four albums have sold nearly 10.5 million copies.

V is for Voting. Which 'American Idol' season finale has sparked the most voter response? Season 8, when nearly 100 million votes were cast. How many of those 100 million votes did 'AI' season 8 winner Kris Allen receive? No official tally, though all sources indicated that Allen handily defeated runner-up Adam Lambert.

W is for Worldwide. 'American Idol' is broadcast in more than 100 locations all over the globe, including Asia, Australia, Mexico, the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Venezuela, Malaysia, Germany, Norway, Pakistan, Italy, Japan, Israel, Sweden, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Estonia and Finland.

X is for 'X Factor,' the show that is taking Simon Cowell from 'American Idol.' 'The X Factor,' created by Cowell in his native England, is an 'Idol'-ish singing competition that the 'AI' judge plans to bring to the United States. Rumors ran rampant after Cowell's brother announced Simon would depart 'American Idol' after season 9, and that Simon Cowell would vacate his 'Idol' chair to join 'The 'X Factor,' U.S. version. Finally, at this week's TCA industry conference, Cowell announced that the rumors were, in fact, on the money: "Right now America needs a second show." PS - 'The X Factor's' biggest success to date: pop diva Leona Lewis, who was the show's third season winner in the UK.

Y is for Youth, as in, if you're 30, you're already over-the-hill in 'Idol' land. For the ninth season, contestants had to be at least 16 years old, but not older than 28 as of June 12, 2009. As for the youngest and oldest winning contestants, Jordin Sparks was 17 when she won season 6 in 2007, while Taylor Hicks was 29 when he won season 5 in 2006.

Z is for Zany, as in those seemingly clueless contestants whose vocal stylings, or lack thereof, have provided just as many (bad) 'American Idol' memories as talents like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert have good ones. Among the most memorable, zaniest (read: painful to watch) 'AI' wannabes: Renaldo Lapuz, the 'I Am Your Brother' guy; Michael Sandecki, the Clay Aiken lookalike/zealous (another Z!) fan; Nicole Tieri, a.k.a. Scooter Girl; the late Alexis Cohen, a.k.a. Glitter Girl, who argued with and cursed at Simon; the 'Si-a-lent Night, I said a Si-a-lent Night' guy; Keith Beukelaer, the 'Like a Virgin' guy; and, of course, William Hung, the guy so bad he actually made a career, and a CD, out of having no talent.

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