Who stars in World Idol -- the national winners or the national judges?

During taping of the World Idol performance show, which took place on December 17, it appeared that the judges were the stars -- or, at least, thought they were the stars, and no two prima donnas had a bigger dust-up than US/UK judge Simon Cowell and Canadian judge Zack Werner.

Canadian Idol winner Ryan Malcolm received some less than complimentary remarks from Simon Cowell. In turn, Zack Werner was the only member of the judging panel to even remotely rebuke heavily-favored American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.

The performance of Kelly, Ryan and nine other international competitors before the judging panel and a jam-packed studio audience will be broadcast to a predicted world-wide audience greater than 100 million viewers on Christmas Day (Thurs., Dec. 25 from 8-10 p.m. ET) and New Year's Day (Thurs., Jan. 1 from 9-10 p.m. ET) on Fox in the U.S. and CTV in Canada. Note that the Canadian finale will now air at the same time as the U.S. finale, in a change from previous schedules.

Inspired by Canada's Olympic gold medal hockey team, Ryan went in to the competition with a good luck charm: a Canadian "Toonie" coin that he planted on stage during rehearsals on Monday. (Unfortunately, there was no ice to bury it in.) Following Ryan's performance of The Hollies' massive post-Graham Nash hit "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," he received encouraging comments ranging from "you are very good" (from South African judge Randall Abrahams) to "believe me, I will buy your CD" (from Pan-Arabic judge Elias Rhabani). But then Ryan faced Simon Cowell.

"There is nothing wrong with it, it was fine," said Cowell. "I'm seeing a lot of people [in the competition] who are adequate but have a quirky personality. I think people [in Canada] felt sorry for you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," shot back Ryan, to a cheer from the audience of 500. During his question and answer segment, Ryan noted that Cowell was doing a "good job" of being mean, again to a loud response from the audience.

Next up was American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, who has been labeled a 7-4 favorite to win by oddsmakers (perhaps based on the fact that her debut album Thankful has sold over 2 million copies, dwarfing the combined sales of all the other Idols). It quickly became apparent that the 11-member judging panel thought Kelly deserved that status, as, one by one, each judge fawned over the American superstar after her performance of Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," included on King's legendary album Tapestry and taken to the top of the charts in a cover version by Aretha Franklin.

In fact, Canada's Zack Werner stood alone in his negative assessment of Kelly's performance. After criticizing her technique of "shouting with tone," Werner said, "When you are going to compete with the great R&B divas, [your performance] ain't all that." The sparks then began to fly when Cowell took on Werner directly. Turning to the Canadian judge, Cowell, representing the United States in World Idol, said: "You are not fit to judge this girl. You don't know what you're talking about." We love it -- the "mean" judges turn on each other!

If the recording session is any indication of the finished product, viewers will enjoy an entertaining show highlighting the diversity of Pop Idol winners from around the world. Among last night's performances were the traditional Arabic song "Ensani Ma Binsak" from Pan-Arabic competitor Diana Karzon to Nirvana's "Lithium" by Belgian Peter Evrard.

Other competitors include Guy Sebastian (Australia, performing "What a Wonderful World" to a good reaction); Heinz Winkler (South Africa, performing Aerosmith's "Don't Want To Miss a Thing"); Kurt Nilsen (Norway, performing U2's "Beautiful Day" and drawing raves); Jamai Loman (Netherlands, performing "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word"); Alexander Klaws (Germany, performing "Maniac"); Alex (real name Alicja Janosz, Poland, performing "I Don't Know How to Love Him"); and Will Young (United Kingdom, performing "Light My Fire").

The "idols" return to London on December 29 in preparation for the World Idol results show, to be recorded and broadcast on New Year's Day.

Insight Productions, producers of The 2003 Juno Awards, in association with CTV, FremantleMedia and 19 TV, will produce World Idol on CTV, and Ben Mulroney, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, will host. On Fox in the U.S., U.K. hosts Ant and Dec will host World Idol.

FremantleMedia, formerly known as Pearson Television, is one of the largest international producers of entertainment programs in the world, producing more than 260 programs in over 40 territories a year. FremantleMedia's international distribution division distributes more than 19,000 hours of programmes to 150 countries worldwide. FremantleMedia is the content business production arm of the RTL Group, Europe's largest television and radio broadcast company, with interest in 23 television channels and 22 radio stations in nine European countries. RTL Group is part of Bertelsmann AG, an integrated media and entertainment company that commands leading positions in the world's major media markets. For further information, please see FremantleMedia's website http://www.fremantlemedia.com.

CTV, Canada's largest private broadcaster, offers a wide range of quality news, sports, information, and entertainment programming. It boasts the number-one national newscast, CTV News With Lloyd Robertson, and is the number-one choice for prime-time viewing. CTV owns 21 conventional television stations across Canada and has interests in 14 specialty channels, including the number-one Canadian specialty channel, TSN. CTV is owned by Bell Globemedia, Canada's premier multi-media company. More information about CTV may be found on the company Web site at http://www.ctv.ca.