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Television
John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV


Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Some "American Idol" insights

Well, "American Idol" came back last night, and kicked butt in the local ratings, as usual. It averaged a 22.4 rating here and a 32% audience share. Channel 19's "American Idol" ratings last night equaled the combined ratings for network programming in Channels 5, 9, 12 and 64. However, Channel 19's rating was down slightly from the season premiere last year (24.3 rating/34% share).

How they do it?
Watching last night, again I was struck by what an editing marvel the show is -- which is the hallmark of any compelling reality show. "American Idol" producers took hours and hours of video from Minneapolis, and cut it down to two hours of every entertaining TV. (The same way "Survivor" editors take three boring days on an island and make 44 minutes of interesting TV, complete with dramatic story lines involving distinct characters.)
After talking to local "American Idol" contestants over the years, I've got a good hunch on how they assemble the show. Now this might be a big "Duh!" to some of you, but others may find it interesting. Here's my best guess how they make "American Idol" so entertaining...

Auditions
The auditions were taped late last summer. I'm told that the judges weren't always there for the cattle call, like when 10,000 people showed up in Seattle, but then they show up later after producers have culled through the masses. Sometimes singers audition three or four times for producers before ever seeing Simon, Paula or Randy. This may explain why some of the awful singers who get through the initial process and sing for the judges are surprised to hear they're lousy. Just my theory. Anyway, the show is an editing marvel because of how they can keep track of the best moments, and how they can edit just the right judges reactions to an audition performance.

Hollywood round
Watch the auditions for four weeks (through Feb. 7), and you'll realize that we don't see most of the people who are going to Hollywood. We see mostly bad singers, with a very good one every 20 minutes or so.
What I've learned is that part of the "Hollywood Round" shows (Feb. 13-14) were taped in November. So the judges and producers have seen all the hopefulls, and made up their minds who will make the 24 semi-finalists (12 guys, 12 women). The singers haven't been told who the 24 semi-finalists are, and won't be told until the annoucement is revealed on the Feb. 14 show.
But because producers likely knew their top 24 (privately) around Thanksgiving, then the audition shows could be edited and assembled with story lines about contestants that could make the semifinals -- the sailor, the auto shop woman in the Army Reserves, etc.
In other words, producers also know which singers likely won't make the Top 24, so they won't devote much TV time to them. I'm guessing that's what happened to Kenny Mathis of Forest Park two years ago, when he advanced to the Hollywood Round but we practically never saw him on the show. The same thing could happen to Robert Hatcher of Westwood that I wrote about Tuesday; time will tell. But my guess is that decisions made by late November inform the editing of the preproduced (non-live) audition shows.
Give Fox folks credit, they know how to craft dramatic story lines around the humor from the bad singers. Whether they can keep our interest for 10 hours of auditions over four weeks, we'll find out. Regardless, I expect continued big ratings for the competition shows -- the Top 24 starting Feb. 20, and the Top 12 beginning March 13. And I won't be surprised if the May finale matches or tops last year's 36.4 million viewers.
Sorry this ran so long.... Hope you found it insightful.
Are you watching "Idol" this year? What do you think?


8 Comments:

at 1/17/2007 3:41 PM Blogger BMurdock said...

Sounds like some good educated guessing... I'm also guessing the American Idol folks didn't know Jewel would be hosting Nashville Star when they invited her to be a guess host on their talent competition. I'm also guessing Jewel may not have known for sure at the time of the taping either…

I thought Jewel did a good job, it seemed like some of the contestants were focusing on her and not the regular judges.

It's fun to watch the guest judge’s reactions and responses. Usually the guest judges still have careers and records to sell (unlike Paula, Randy & Simon) so they have to be careful not too come off too harsh. Notice they don't usually use the guest judges on the later rounds. The earlier rounds the decisions are pretty much unanimous. How would they decide a split decision on a 4 person panel?? Oh the drama…

 
at 1/17/2007 4:18 PM Anonymous SpongeBob SquarePants said...

My guess would be a forum - one-half plus one - of the judges has to send a person to Hollywood. In other words, two of three judges or three of four judges.

 
at 1/17/2007 4:42 PM Blogger Rob Bernard said...

What I find interesting is how even for the people we see audition we don't really see what goes on in the room. From the editing of things it seems like they just walk in, say hello, sing their song, get judged, and walk out. But then at the end you see all these people we've already seen singing that Prince song in the audition room so you know more goes on in there than we're seeing.

 
at 1/17/2007 5:51 PM Blogger nky_jenn79 said...

I have watched American Idol every year, but I have to say that these first 4 weeks bore me. I might listen to the bad singers or just wait until the next day when it seems like all of the news shows show the highlights of the crazy singers. I like to tune in when the Hollywood round starts. I used to watch these auditions, but now I think they show too many hours of them. If I'm calculating correctly, 16 hours of mostly bad singers, is a bit much. Now if the auditions were ever held in Cincinnati, I would watch those auditions to see if I knew anyone.

I also don't really feel sorry for the "singers" when they are horrible and can't believe it. I do think it's wrong for the producers to tell them they are great and keep passing them along, only to be beat down by the panel of 3/4.

 
at 1/17/2007 9:41 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally would like to see American Idol worst of the worst, i like watching the horrible auditions because they are funnnnny

 
at 1/18/2007 11:16 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with the above poster in that a lot of the 4 hours of Idol was bad singers and a lot of commercials. it would have been a little more enticing to have heard more from those who made it to the hollywood round. there were very few good auditions that we saw which i thought was a little frustrating.

 
at 1/18/2007 7:39 PM Anonymous dawgsfan47 said...

I'm not a diehard American Idol fan, but I watch it when I'm at home. I saw the first night of auditions. I love watching the auditions...the judges' comments to those horrible singers are hilarious! And to watch people get so mad when they are told they can't sing at all...I laugh out loud almost the entire time. My least favorite part of the show is the Hollywood round. It's too predictable - people forget lyrics, personalities don't get along in the group, at least one person blows off the rest of their group, and arguments occur. I like the round of 24 and round of 12, but I think the auditions are the best!

 
at 1/19/2007 11:32 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not an American Idol viewer; last season was the first and last time I watched. I did check out the second night of this season's auditions, though, and I was appalled at the tone used toward the contestants. It was a lot more vicious than last year, especially the voice-overs and judges' comments. I won't watch again. I understand the contenstants sign waivers allowing their tape to be used, and they know what they're in for, but let's also keep in mind that being the next American Idol is a lifelong dream not only for the good singers, but the bad ones as well, and shame on Fox for exploiting these bad singers in a much nastier and cattier manner than in previous seasons.

 
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