American Idol Auditions Drawing Monster Crowds

By Alicia Rancilio
|  Sunday, Aug 8, 2010  |  Updated 12:30 PM EDT
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LOS ANGELES — Fox TV's "American Idol" has a shortage of judges at the moment, but it's doing fine with would-be contestants.

Nearly 50,000 people have turned out in the first four cities where tryouts have been held, according to series producers. Auditions for the singing contest's 10th season started July 15 in Nashville, Tenn.

The crowds of 16,000 in Nashville and 17,000 in East Rutherford, N.J., are among the biggest the show has ever seen — eclipsed only by the 22,000 that auditioned in Washington, D.C., for season four, a show spokeswoman said.

Earlier this year, "American Idol" expanded the pool by lowering the age eligibility a year, from 16 to 15 years old. The maximum age to audition remains 28.

Host Ryan Seacrest suggested another reason for the enthusiasm.

"I think people are sensing that season 10 is a historic moment, and they all want to take a shot at being the 10th American Idol," Seacrest said at the New Jersey audition earlier this week.

The final auditions are set for Austin, Texas, on Aug. 11 and San Francisco on Aug. 19.

"American Idol" also is in search of new judges for its January return. Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres have exited, with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler reportedly the front-runners to join the panel. Fox hasn't addressed the status of judges Randy Jackson or Kara DioGuardi.

Nigel Lythgoe, the "So You Think You Can Dance" judge and co-creator who is rejoining "American Idol" as an executive producer, told Fox News he thinks there is more talent to be discovered and hopes to "find the next Michael Jackson."

He's also ready to have attention shift from judges to singers, Lythgoe said.

"Really, we should be talking about the contestants, and that's what I want to see happening again. Focusing on their talent. Even if it's Sanjaya (and) we're talking about his ... hair, for goodness' sake," Lythgoe told Fox, referring to former contestant Sanjaya Malakar's eye-catching hairdo parade.

On Wednesday, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch told a conference call with analysts and journalists, "we're very close to announcing who the judges will be. There are very active negotiations with a number of people."

Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox, also predicted that "next year's 'Idol' will be different, it'll be better. The music will certainly be better and we've got great expectations for it."

The makeover comes after a season during which ratings dipped, but not enough to deny "American Idol" the No. 1 spot. Besides halting the slide, Fox also wants to draw more younger, advertiser-coveted viewers to the show, which has seen its audience age during its run.

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