How Will The Wild-Card Round Work On 'American Idol'?

'There will be more personality, more interest and just more diversity,' Simon Cowell says of this season's twist.

"American Idol" producers have thrown viewers a bunch of curveballs this season already, from the inexplicably long ride of comedian/singer Nick "Norman Gentle" Mitchell and emotional time-bomb Tatiana Del Toro to the return of the wild-card round of the show.

The round — which in the past has saved such future stars as season two runner-up Clay Aiken and season three's Oscar-winning seventh-place finisher, Jennifer Hudson — will be back in the mix next Thursday (March 5). Up until now, though, "Idol" has been tight-lipped about how the round will work, which has led to rampant online speculation and some wild Internet theories about how the show will add to the nine audience-chosen finalists. Some fan sites speculated that the contestants with the next-highest vote totals, i.e., those who came in fourth or fifth during the first three rounds, will automatically make it to the wild card. Others have guessed that 12 contestants will be competing for the three spots next Thursday. The sometimes-reliable "Idol" fan site also reportedly heard that wild-card contestants will sing the same song they performed during their semifinal week.

While those rumors have been creative, an "Idol" spokesperson said they are mostly off-base. Quite simply, each judge can pick two contestants from the top 36 — from which everyone is eligible — and those eight (or possibly nine) singers will perform a song on the one-hour March 5 show, with three advancing into the top 12. (Are you as confused as we are about when the show airs? We have the coming weeks' American Idol" schedule in the Newsroom blog.)

The same rules apply as during the audition phases, with majority picks winning the day and judge Simon Cowell casting the tie-breaking vote should there be a 2-2 deadlock, the spokesperson explained.

"I think when we put the 12 together, there will be more personality, more interest and just more diversity," Cowell told USA Today, without hinting at who he favored to make the cut.

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