In the show, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, people first audition before three judges (Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) in cities across the United States. One of the most popular portions of each season are initial episodes showcasing auditions of American Idol hopefuls auditioning before the panel of judges. Poor singers often face intense and humbling criticism from the judges, and especially from Cowell, who can be harsh and blunt in his criticism. Some poor performances have attained notoriety on their own; these have included season two's performance of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" by Keith Beukelaer and season three's rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" by William Hung.
The three judges narrow the initial field down to thirty-two semi-finalists who are invited to Hollywood to perform on the show.
During the semifinal phase, the 32 semifinalists are divided into four groups. Each contestant performs live (in the eastern and central time zones), in primetime, a song of their choice, and receives critiques from the judges, who, from this point on, serve only in an advisory capacity, with no direct influence of the results. On the following night's episode the results of the nationwide vote are announced, and the top two vote-getters advance to the finals.
Viewers have two hours following the broadcast of the show in their time zone to phone in their votes for their favorite contestant. Callers are allowed to vote as many times as they like for any number of contestants.
When all the semifinal shows have been completed, there is a wildcard phase. Each judge chooses one semifinalist to advance to the final round, and a studio audience vote determines the final wildcard spot, rounding out the field of twelve finalists.
In the finals, which lasts eleven weeks, each finalist performs live in primetime a song from a weekly theme (two songs in later rounds). Themes have included disco, big band music, and Billboard #1 hits. Some themes are based on music recorded by a particular artist, and the finalists have a chance to work with that artist in preparing their performances. Artists around whom themes have been based include Barry Manilow, Gloria Estefan, and Elton John.
When there are three finalists remaining, themes are no longer used. Instead, each contestant sings three songs: one of their own choice, one chosen by the judges, and one chosen by record executive Clive Davis.
On the following night's episode (live again), the contestant with the fewest votes is sent home. This process is repeated until the one remaining contestant is declared the winner.
A spin-off series called American Juniors premiered on June 3, 2003. Following the success of the Idol franchise, Canada received its own version in August-September 2003, called Canadian Idol, hosted by Ben Mulroney.
In the first season the show was co-hosted by Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman. Kelly Clarkson won, with Justin Guarini coming in second. Numerous television specials starring the ten finalists followed, as well as a movie entitled From Justin to Kelly.
In season two with Seacrest as the lone host, Ruben Studdard was the winner with Clay Aiken as runner up. Out of 24 million votes cast, Studdard finished just 130,000 votes ahead of Aiken, although there remains controversy over the validity of the reported results. Despite Studdard's win, Aiken has enjoyed more widespread popularity.
|Date||Theme||Guest Judge(s)||Bottom Three|
|March 11||Motown||Lamont Dozier||Vanessa Olivarez||Kimberley Locke||Julia DeMato|
|March 18||Movie Songs||Gladys Knight||Charles Grigsby||Julia DeMato (2)||Corey Clark|
|March 25||Country Music||Olivia Newton-John||Julia DeMato (3)||Kimberly Caldwell||Rickey Smith|
|April 1||Disco||Verdine White||Corey Clark (eliminated)|
|April 8||Billboard #1 Hits||Lionel Richie||Rickey Smith (2)||Kimberly Caldwell (2)||Kimberley Locke (2)|
|April 15||Billy Joel||Smokey Robinson||Kimberly Caldwell (3)||Carmen Rasmusen||Trenyce|
|April 22||Diane Warren songs||Diane Warren||Carmen Rasmusen (2)||Trenyce (2)||Joshua Gracin|
|April 29||Neil Sedaka songs||Neil Sedaka||Trenyce (3)||Ruben Studdard|
|May 6||Bee Gees Songs||Robin Gibb||Joshua Gracin (2)||Kimberley Locke (3)|
|May 13||Kimberley Locke (4)|
|May 20||Paul Anka||Ruben Studdard||Clay Aiken|
The third season of American Idol premiered on January 19, 2004. After a nationwide vote of more than 65 million votes in total, Fantasia Barrino was voted the next American Idol. Diana DeGarmo came in second.
|Date||Theme||Guest Judge(s)||Bottom Three|
|March 17||Soul||Leah Labelle||Amy Adams||Jennifer Hudson|
|March 24||Country||Matthew Rogers||Camile Velasco||Diana DeGarmo|
|March 31||Motown||Nick Ashford,
|Amy Adams (2)||Jennifer Hudson (2)||LaToya London|
|April 7||Elton John||Jasmine Trias||Camile Velasco (2)||Diana DeGarmo (2)|
|April 15||Movies||Quentin Tarantino||Jon Peter Lewis||Diana DeGarmo (3)||John Stevens|
|April 21||Barry Manilow||Barry Manilow||Fantasia Barrino||LaToya London (2)||Jennifer Hudson (3)|
|April 28||Gloria Estefan||Gloria Estefan||John Stevens (2)||Jasmine Trias (2)||George Huff|
|May 5||Big Band||George Huff (2)||Jasmine Trias (3)|
|May 12||Disco||Donna Summer||Fantasia Barrino (2)||LaToya London (3)|
|May 19||Clive Davis||Jasmine Trias (4)|
|May 26||Paul Anka||Fantasia Barrino||Diana DeGarmo|
The fourth season of American Idol will premiere in January 2005.
- American Idol Greatest Moments (2002)
- American Idol Season 2: All Time Classic American Love Songs (2003)
- American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics (2003)
- "God Bless The U.S.A." (single) (2003)
- "What the World Needs Now" (single)(2003)
- American Idol Season 3: Greatest Soul Classics (2004)