LOS ANGELES - Changes are coming to "American Idol" when it returns in January, including a return to "wild card" finalists picked by the show's judges and less airtime for memorably bad auditions. But don't expect the show to abandon its affection for untalented contestants, executive producer Ken Warwick said Monday.
Failing to include them would mean, "I would have a pretty boring show on my hands and it wouldn't be honest," Warwick told a telephone news conference. The majority of those who tried out in Puerto Rico, for example, weren't very good, he said.
Fox's hit talent contest will open its eighth season with a two-night, four-hour premiere on Jan. 13-14 from 8-10 p.m. EST, the network said.
"American Idol" will cut the number of weeks featuring nationwide tryouts from four weeks to three and will bring more contestants to Hollywood to compete - 36 men and women compared to the two dozen of past seasons, Fox said.
The group will be winnowed down to 12 finalists, with nine chosen by audience voting and three wild-card singers selected by judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and a previously announced newcomer, singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi.
"If something goes horrendously awry, the judges could fix it on the wild card show," Warwick said. The show featured the approach previously.
The changes aren't in response to a ratings dip of 7 percent last season, Warwick said, adding it was less than that posted by TV overall and was to be expected for a veteran series.
"There were no panic changes. ... This show wouldn't be on the TV for eight years if it wasn't doing it right," he said. A further drop could occur this year given that broadcast ratings generally have slipped.
The show's charity effort, "Idol Gives Back," will be absent this season, as reported last week by The Associated Press and others. It likely will return on an every-other-year basis, Warwick said. He cited both the added production demands the charity special creates and the current economic climate.
Warwick was asked about recent criticism from Abdul that the show exposed her to peril by allowing an alleged stalker, Paula Goodspeed, to audition in a previous season. Goodspeed was found dead of apparent suicide in a car near Abdul's Los Angeles home last month.
"I would definitely not put a dangerous person or person I thought was remotely dangerous in front of the judges," he said. Other than giving "everybody a psych test before they walk in," Warwick said, the show does the best it can to screen contestants.
He dismissed rumors that Abdul's future with the show was cloudy, saying, "There's never been any discussion that we would want to get rid of Paula."
Last year's winner was David Cook, chosen by viewers over runner-up David Archuleta.
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