"American Idol" Lowers Age Limit to 15

Ratings are down, Simon's gone, so hopes rest with kiddies

By Greg Wilson
|  Monday, Jun 21, 2010  |  Updated 1:30 PM EDT
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"Idols" with Star Power

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The top 10 contestants from this year's American Idol are on tour, including winner Lee DeWyze. Tickets: $40.50 - 96.50. Cities: Atlantic City (7/10), Philly (7/11), Newark (7/20). For more tour dates and ticket info, click here.

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Now that Simon Cowell and his acid tongue are gone, "American Idol" has been deemed safe for the tender sensibilities of 15-year-olds.

The Fox talent show juggernaut is lowering the minimum age to compete from 16 to 15 in advance of its 10th season The move comes after a lackluster season that saw ratings dip critics and fans alike complain about a dearth of talent.

"A lot of young, talented people are now seeking careers and representation before they turn 16," executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz. told USA Today. "Lowering the age limit allows us to tap into this talent pool." The show previously had a 16-to-28 age limit.

A shakeup could be what's needed. Last month, Billboard noted that the show's pool of contestants "was widely considered to be the weakest in the show's vaunted history, with the top 10 finalists, who will perform together on this summer's American Idol Live! tour, comprising a bizarre mix of pop/R&B singers with identity crises and guitar-strumming "street busker" types, as Simon Cowell likes to call them."

Teens are already at a big disadvantage on the show, with more polished contestants up to age 28 competing. The last teens to finish in the Top Two were Season 7 runner-up David Archuleta and Season 6 champ Jordin Sparks. Lee DeWyze, 24, won the season that ended last month

But lowering the age limit could further solidify show's most loyal demographic, teens, while leaving open the possibility of a Justin Bieber-like discovery. Auditions begin July 17 in Nashville, Tenn. Click here for more details.

The show has bigger changes to contend with. Mastermind Cowell is leaving to launch another show, "The X Factor," and longtime musical director Rickey Minor is leaving to lead the band on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

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