Once upon a time, an "American Idol" fan tuned in to Fox on Tuesday and Wednesday nights each week, maybe checked out a fan site or two the next day, and that was it.
This season, though, it's a whole new experience.
Now fans can watch the pre-show, the main show and the post-show (all on different networks), order a ring tone of their favorite performance, buy an outfit worn that night by one of the singers, predict who's going home in an online fantasy game and read some of the seemingly thousands of "Idol" blogs.
Somewhere Justin Guarini is wishing he would have waited a few seasons.
"This isn't just about capitalization on the product, it's opening it up for all the other devices that are available," "American Idol" co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said. "It's a very exciting time, not just for 'American Idol,' but for all of us ... as long as you're into media. If you want to go to the country, go there and get out of it [because] this is the way the world's going."
"Anything with 'Idol' in the name, people want to be a part of because it's really taking over the country," added former "Idol" finalist Kimberly Caldwell.
Caldwell, along with recording an album, is the co-host of the TV Guide Channel's live pre-show "Idol Tonight." The hour-long program, which airs at 7 p.m. ET/PT (along with additional repeats), shoots at the same location as "Idol" and features other former contestants among its guests.
"We have the entire audience, so we talk about each contestant, what's going to happen this week," Caldwell said. "We talk to experts, fashion designers, makeup, vocal coaches and then each one of their fans, and that's where we get the crazy stuff. By the time we get done with them and send them in for the show, they're really pumped up. Some of these people drove 20 hours just to see the show, so the least we can do is hype them up a little more."
| 'Idol' Season Five Performances|
| Photos Of The 12 Finalists|
Also shooting on location is the post-show "American Idol Extra," which airs Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/PT (with encores) on Fox Reality. Ty Treadway of "Soap Talk" hosts the show, with former finalists Mikalah Gordon and Matt Rogers assisting. "American Idol Extra" begins shooting the moment each Wednesday "Idol" episode ends, and it gets the first interview with the eliminated singer.
Outside of TV shows, "Idol" has also expanded in the phone market. Fans have, of course, been able to text-message votes in the past and download news and pictures, but Cingular just launched "Live Idol Tone," a service that provides a 30-second ring tone from each contestant's performance every week. Fans can preorder them on Tuesday nights and download them the following morning.
"It's just a natural extension of the show," said John Burbank, Cingular's vice president of marketing. "People, especially kids, really love their chosen Idol, and this is another way for fans to express their affinity for them and to show it off to their friends in a very public way. We're in the ring-tone business and a sponsor of the show, so it was like, 'Well, gee, wouldn't it make sense?' "
StarStyle thought the same thing, only with fashion instead of ring tones. On the company's Web site, as well as the official "Idol" site, fans can learn exactly what every contestant wore each week and even order the products.
" 'American Idol' is a great property for us from the demographic point of view, and the fans of all these contestants want to live like them and shop like them," StarStyle CEO Ashley Heather said. "We're trying to help that big section of America that doesn't have a boutique on the corner where they can go down and buy what the fashion icons are wearing."
Other new "American Idol"-related endeavors include the include the fantasy-football-like online game IdolGoHome.com, an "Idol" board game and the upcoming feature-film satire "American Dreamz," which is clearly modeled after the show.
It's all a sign of the show's continued success, but could it backfire? Could there come a point where there's simply too much "Idol"?
"I think that the people who run the show are very smart, and they're making choices around what kind of things to do to balance the amazing thirst for anything related to the show with the risk of being overexposed," Burbank said. "As long as they're being careful and not slapping the name on everything out there, we don't have to worry."
"Idol has exposed itself as much as possible, and people keep latching themselves to it and loving it," Caldwell said. "I don't think they can go wrong no matter what they do. People are going to tune in."
Lythgoe, who also oversees the original "Pop Idol" in the United Kingdom and the other "Idol" shows across the globe, pictures a day when fans can watch "Idol" on their watches, and he's all for it.
"The true fans, the ones that watch paint dry if it says 'American Idol,' will [do these other things] and love it," he said. "And the ones that don't need 'American Idol' 24 hours a day won't. ... It's far better to have the option than not, as far as I'm concerned."