'Idol' Auditions Kicking Into High Gear With 50 More Cities

Earlier, optional round to start in August 2006.

Auditioning for "American Idol" will get a lot easier in 2006.

Fremantle Media, one of the production companies behind the show, is developing an earlier, optional round to the current auditioning format that will widen the scope to 50 cities and give some 20,000 more singers a shot.

The Idol Auditions Tour, as it will be known, will have judges auditioning the first 500 people (who meet the requirements, of course) to arrive at malls and other locations in cites around the world. The best of those potential contestants will then perform in front of an audience in that city for the opportunity to be fast-tracked through the normal stadium auditions, which see hundreds of thousands of singers in only six to eight cities.

"We came up with the idea for this tour when we learned that one contestant sold her wedding ring to make the trip to audition for 'American Idol,' " Ken Seiff, who is co-producing the tour with his Glowcast Ventures, said in a statement. "We realized that there were probably other contestants who couldn't afford to travel or take time off from work in order to try out for the show. The newest 'American Idol,' Carrie Underwood, had to travel over seven hours to make the trip. We're excited to bring the auditions to the local level because it ensures that the best 'Idol' is found."

Cities and dates for the Idol Auditions Tour have yet to be announced, but it will launch next August, in time for season six of "American Idol."

As for the fifth season, dates have not been announced, but auditions will be held later this summer in Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Diego.

"Idol" insiders are expecting a wider range of potential contestants after country and Southern-rock singers (Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice, for those living under a rock) went to the finals last season.

"I think you'll have a lot more people who wouldn't have necessarily entered this competition saying, 'I think I'll give it a go,' " Simon Cowell said. "I think Fantasia started it."

Second season finalist Kimberly Caldwell, who covers the show for the TV Guide Channel, also thinks the tweaks to the show will draw more diverse singers to audition.

"They're allowing new things, songs they couldn't sing a few years ago, [and] contestants can be more interactive," she said. "Doors are opening, but they have to at this point. It gets too routine, and they have to keep their audience excited."

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