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Sixth season of 'American Idol' opens tonight

"American Idol" is back and bigger than ever.

The show that ended last season's run on May 25 with Taylor Hicks's celebratory "Woooooo!" may climb to even loftier heights this season. The electrifying surprise appearance of Prince on the final show boosted the "Idol" juggernaut.

According to the Associated Press, last year's "American Idol" drew 30.6 million viewers, up 14 percent from 2005, when it had 26.8 million average viewers. Nielson Media Research says that more than 36 million people watched the finals, making it the third most-watched event of 2006, behind only the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards.
And Buffalo remains one of the best markets for the Fox show. After last year's finals, WUTV researcher Jon May told The News that an average of 139,260 Buffalo households viewed a typical "American Idol" episode.

That's despite the fact that the "American Idol" show moves around, changing its starting times, the length of its broadcast and even the days it appears. While it always airs on Tuesdays, it also airs on Wednesdays for part of the season -- and even adds Thursdays results shows for a few weeks.

This sort of inconsistency would doom most other shows. But "Idol" viewers make it a point to keep up.

So for those 139,260 households, and for anybody else who wants to find out what all the hubbub is about, mark your calendars for tonight, when the season opens with auditions.

As always, the audition shows feature the odd, the off-key and the outrageous, with the judges' snappy comments the main entertainment. The unbridled jubilation of the good singers who are passed along to further rounds only adds to this addictive dynamic.
Watch the Buffalo News' Life & Arts section for the return of the "Idol Watch" column, published the day after each performance show. It will discuss the highs, the lows, what's wrong with Paula, whether Simon has come up with a more descriptive phrase than the tired "bad karaoke," and how many times in one show Randy can say "Dawg."
Here's how the viewing schedule stack up:

This week features two shows, each running from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tonight's show is from the Minneapolis auditions; Wednesday's was shot at the Seattle auditions.

Next week, the shows are each an hour long, but start at different times. The Jan. 23 show starts at 8 p.m. and is from the Memphis auditions; the Jan. 24 show starts at 9 p.m. and was shot at the New York City auditions.

On Jan. 30, the hourlong show starts at 8 p.m. and is from the Birmingham auditions; the Jan. 31 show, also an hour long, begins at 9 p.m. and is from the San Antonio auditions.

The final week of hourlong audition shows starts on Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. from the Los Angeles auditions. A show of "Rest of the Best" auditions will start at 9 p.m. on Feb. 7.

In the next week, the singers are winnowed down to the final 24 in two hourlong Hollywood Rounds. The first starts at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 and the second at 9 p.m. Feb. 14. The top 24 semifinalists will be announced.

After this segment, the power to boot or promote singers shifts from the judges to the voting audience. While the judges still give feedback on each performance, the public makes its own decisions, with millions of phoned-in and text-messaged votes reportedly tallied after each show.

The next week, the show goes back to two hours, with the top 12 male singers performing from 8 to 10 p.m. on Feb. 20 and the top 12 females performing in the same time slot on Feb. 21. This is also the first week of audience voting, and the first live results show -- in which two men and two women will be voted off -- will be shown from 8 to 9 p.m. Feb. 22.

This basic pattern continues for the next two weeks, until March 13, when the top 12 finalists -- six men, six women -- perform together for the first time in a two-hour show starting at 8 p.m.

Get a good look at these singers, since every week you'll see their hair, makeup and clothing being tweaked by "Idol" stylists. Some changes, like the transformation of Elliott Yamin from an Amish farmer to a cutie with a Springsteen aura, will be impressive.



>Television Preview

"American Idol"

Season premiere: 8 tonight WUTV Channel 29

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