Will New 'American Idol' Twitter, Facebook Rules Make A Difference?

Unlike past years, semifinalists can now use social-media sites during the season.

Up until this year, when an "American Idol" hopeful made it to Hollywood and beyond, he or she had to maintain a strict radio silence or risk being booted from the show for blabbing. But on Wednesday night, as season nine's top 24 were announced, "Idol" brass also revealed that this year's semifinalists would be allowed to post to "Idol"-approved MySpace, Facebook and Twitter pages, a potentially monumental thaw in the "Idol" universe.

"I think it's a great idea," said longtime "Idol" follower MJ Santilli, who runs one of the leading "Idol" fan sites, MJsBigBlog.com. "[It's] a way for the contestants to keep in touch with their fans and reveal parts of their personalities we don't see on the show. For instance, I never realized what a great sense of humor Kris Allen had until he began tweeting about Snuggies and SkyMall products!"

A spokesperson for "Idol" did not return requests for comment on how the new social-media functions will fit into the overall face of the show. It was unknown at press time if the contestants would be allowed to post freely or if their comments would be vetted by "Idol" brass before going up, and though all had Twitter feeds by Wednesday night, at press time, none of the contestants had tweeted anything to the accounts yet; their Facebook and MySpace accounts were all uniformly blank at press time as well, save for photos and a bit of basic biographical information.

If anything, Santilli speculated that the new openness could give some in the top 24 and beyond an unfair advantage "if they are particularly verbose ... but it remains to be seen how tight a leash the producers will keep on their output. If it's strictly controlled, it may not be worth much. All in all, I think it's an interesting experiment."

News Corp., the parent company of Fox, the network that broadcasts "Idol," bought MySpace in 2005.

Another close "Idol" watcher, professor Robert Thompson, director of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, said he's also withholding judgment on just how big a deal the social-media openness is for now. "It would be one thing if they said, 'All restrictions off,' and they allowed them to go on there and say whatever they want," he said. "That could be really interesting or really problematic. My guess is, if it's any indication of how the show's modus operandi has been in the past, these things will be highly controlled. That said, I would love to go on Facebook and Twitter and see them gossiping and dissing fellow competitors. That would have a certain juicy, 'Jersey Shore' deliciousness to it."

Because the "Idol" juggernaut — which had been undefeated in the ratings over 222 episodes since 2004 before Wednesday night's Winter Olympics coverage beat it — has such a diverse, heterogeneous, family-friendly audience, Thompson said he doubted show runners would allow contestants to offer the same unfiltered, sometimes controversial voice frequently found on Twitter.

"The democratic noise on Twitter on regular people's accounts is one thing," he said. "But on the spectrum of control and management, I would think 'Idol' would be on the very controlled end. No one wants to be kicked off the show or jeopardize continuing. ... Just like a public figure where everyone is looking at every syllable they say, if you let them say what they want, eventually they will say something stupid."

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