'American Idol' Producer Insists Season-Eight Adjustments Aren't 'Panic Changes'

Ken Warwick talks about the new super-size Hollywood week and the return of wild cards.

New judge Kara DioGuardi isn't the only thing viewers might not recognize when "American Idol" returns next month.

On Monday (December 15), "Idol" executive producer Ken Warwick revealed a number of changes that will be introduced in the show's eighth season, including the return of the wild-card system, extending Hollywood week (now Hollywood weeks) and having 36 semifinalists instead of the traditional 24.

The wild-card system was last seen in season three, when it gave Jennifer Hudson another shot at the finals. It also saved eventual runner-up Clay Aiken in season two. The basic idea is that after the semifinal voting is complete, the judges have a chance to look at the castoffs and bring back the contestants they thought were unfairly voted off. Warwick said they decided to bring wild cards back to shake up the 12 men/ 12 women formula of the past four seasons.

"Wherever we can, we wanna change things up a little bit," he said. "We felt that in doing the 12-and-12, that by the time we got down to the final eight, we'd been living with these kids for eight weeks already. If any of them didn't have fantastic characters, it got a bit boring."

One of the biggest complaints about the old system was the placing of contestants into groups and only allowing two from each set to advance. What if there were more talented people in one group than another? Warwick said that problem has been remedied by allowing three from each group into the finals instead and bringing back the judges' wild-card picks.

"It's fairer than it was in the past in that three are going through instead of two, so there's less chance of us missing somebody," he insisted.

Hollywood week will also see a shakeup. Five shows over two weeks — instead of two or three in one week — will focus on the singers trying to make it into the semifinals. That decision means fewer tragic auditions will be featured in the beginning weeks.

"The [Hollywood week shows] were always so good, and there was so much emotion there," Warwick said. "We thought it would be better to extend the Hollywood weeks and cut down one week on the first shows."

Warwick said last season's ratings dip had nothing to do with the updates: "There were no panic changes. It wasn't, 'Oh my God, we're down 7 percent. We've got to change the whole show.' This show wouldn't have been on TV for eight years if it wasn't doing it right.

"We are tweaking it around, trying to make it a bit more interesting," he added. "Some things will work; some things won't.

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