How Does New ‘American Idol’ Rule Work?

Judges will be able to save one person from elimination this season.

“American Idol” fans are used to heartbreak. Everyone has a favorite who was inexplicably booted from the competition before their time.

In light of these past indiscretions — which have resulted in the premature ejection of multiplatinum superstar Chris Daughtry, Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson and popular singers Tamyra Gray and Michael Johns — host Ryan Seacrest announced on Wednesday night’s elimination show that a new rule could potentially save a superstar-in-the-making from missing out on the winner’s circle.

The way Seacrest explained it made it sound a bit more complicated than it really is, so here’s the breakdown on what the new rule means: The judges have the opportunity to save one contestant this season, but only until the competition reaches the top five. After that, their fate is in America’s hands. Up until that point, the judges can use their lifeline once to save one contestant from elimination, but the vote has to be unanimous. Once they decide to save a contestant, that’s it, so they have to choose wisely.

The week that the judges save someone, no contestants will go home, but two singers will be axed the following week. The first test of the new rule came during Wednesday night’s show, when the judges agreed that neither Jorge Nuñez nor Jasmine Murray were worth saving.

While “Idol” remains, at its heart, a popularity contest that happens to be focused on singers, the eventual aim of the program is to mint a new music superstar who will produce a hit album for the show-affiliated management and record company. In theory, the new rule, which is already used on the French version of the show, will allow judges to give America another chance to evaluate a singer they think might have more potential than was evident during an off week. But, if that singer fails to bring it the week after they’ve been saved, well, then America gets to vote again and the judges have to sit back and watch.

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