With the "American Idol" finalists now living together and the final round of competition starting, the staff is starting to ask the question.
No, not "Who will win?"
" 'Who will hook up first?' That's always the big question [behind the scenes]," Ryan Seacrest revealed.
Wait ... hooking up? This is "American Idol," not "Temptation Idol." The requisite hot tub scene is reserved for "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelor," not a talent show. Right?
"Trust me, there's been hookups," Simon Cowell insisted. "They don't talk about it, but it happens. Of course it happens. What do you think? We've got 12 kids living in the same house. Come on."
Then where are the gossip reports? "Dude, you should dig!" Randy Jackson answered.
The truth is there are reasons why the "American Idol" broadcasts don't get much more provocative than William Hung singing "She Bangs" surrounded by scantily clad dancers.
Most importantly, it's a matter of fairness.
"Obviously, if they're old enough, we can't interfere with who they want to hook up with, but if I thought the whole nation, irrespective of what the kid sounded like, was going to go, 'Oh, bless them, they're in love, let's keep them in,' then I would deliberately not make a big deal of it [on camera]," co-executive producer Ken Warwick said. "You don't want to give any undue publicity to any one kid."
Warwick, however, is not as certain as Cowell that that kind of activity has gone on.
"Generally speaking, they just don't have time to hook up properly until after the series," he said. "Also, there's security and producers in the house all of the time, so it's not as if they can sort of skulk off and have some romantic liaison easily. ... That's one of the reasons we keep them in an actual mansion, so we can keep an eye on them.
"And if the kid is underage," he added, "then the parents are there, so it will never happen with a kid who's underage."
With four males and eight females in the final 12 this season, the chances of a hookup are slim.
"There better not be!" finalist Fantasia Barrino said. "I think everybody is just focused on their music. I have a boyfriend I think about sometimes, but other than that, music is on my mind."
"That leads to some serious controversy," fellow contestant Jon Peter Lewis added. "Have you ever seen 'The Real World'?"
"We're business friends," Diana DeGarmo declared.
So hookups probably won't be a part of the third "American Idol" finals, but the producers think the talent will more than make up for the lack of scandal.
"Normally in our top 10 we have three or four I don't personally believe should be there, but this year we're going to have an extremely talented top 12," Nigel Lythgoe, the show's other co-executive producer, said. "In the first season, we got some great performers and two special voices, Kelly and Tamyra. In the second season, we had some really good voices, and not particularly great performers. This year, we're gonna get both — performing singers. And good-looking kids as well. Kids have watched two seasons and I'm positive they're more savvy."
Tuesday's show will feature a soul-music theme, although there won't be a guest judge. Warwick confirmed Barry Manilow will judge one week, but he refused to name others.
"The problem with guest judges is that the bigger you go with the guest judges, and we're going for some quite big legends this year, obviously the more difficult it is to tie them down to any one day, because their schedules are just all over the place," Warwick said. "All I can tell you is we don't have a guest judge every week."
Warwick also hesitated to reveal the theme weeks, although he said they were picked weeks ago. He simply said to expect variety.
"We like to serve every demographic that watches us," Warwick said. "We'll even do big band from the '30s and '40s. It's kind of good that the kids don't know the songs that well. ... It's not like we're picking a song that's been a hit in the past six months so they all know it. It's something they do have to learn from scratch."