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'American Idol' moving ahead with sixth season songwriting contest


By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 04/04/2007 

Months after the show's producers first began talking about it, American Idol will finally formally launch its first ever songwriting competition during tonight's live results show that reveals the sixth season's Top 8 finalists. 

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The winning tune found through the competition will be sung by the two finalists during the series' May 23 finale and will also become the new Idol's first single.

"As American Idol does with amateur singers -- opening the doors to a recording career -- we're taking that idea and reinterpreting it to the songwriting world," Iain Pirie, who heads the U.S. side of 19 Entertainment, told USA Today in an article published Wednesday.

Amateur songwriters with no exclusive publishing deals who are 18-years-old and up can write and records songs for the competition, and then upload them via American Idol's website.

"It could be anyone. It could be someone sitting on their porch in Tennessee, or they could be playing in a bar band in Seattle," Pirie told USA Today. "You can literally imagine a 50-year-old mom sitting in her living room with a portable keyboard, coming up with a great song." 

After the submission deadline passes, Idol creator Simon Fuller will then reportedly head a team that will be responsible for picking 20 "semifinalist" songs that fans will be able listen to and vote for on Idol's website.   According to Pire, voting -- reportedly restricted to "one online vote per fan" -- will begin Wednesday, May 2.

"[Fans] will feel very engaged with the process in the same way that they are with the TV show," Fuller told USA Today.

Once a winner is chosen, he or she will receive a one-song, standard deal with 19 Entertainment and a record producer will arrange and produce the song for the Top 2 Idol finalists to perform.  Pirie added the songwriter may also get to consult with the producer on the arrangement.

In earlier interviews, Fuller has made it clear that he hopes that the contest will solve one of the problems that has plagued the competition since its 2002 debut -- the fact that due to the uncertainty over who will be the series' finalists, less-than-perfect song matches are frequently created during the finales.  Now amateurs will get their chance with specific finalists in mind, and Pirie said different levels of recording sophistication won't be a problem because "music professionals can judge the quality regardless of the arrangement."

"One overriding truth in all this is that a great song is a great song," Pirie told USA Today.

Although plans for the contest were first announced back before Idol's sixth season even began, no formal details about the contest had emerged until now.  In fact, just two weeks ago, Idol producer Ken Warwick told TV Week that he was no longer sure that the competition would still happen. Now, aspiring songwriters might be working under the gun, as submissions will be accepted no later than Tuesday, April 17. 

One reason for the delay has been the Idol Gives Back charity event.  "Everyone's kind of focused on Idol Gives Back, which sort of sprang up very quickly and grabbed us," Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe had told reporters during a conference call last week.

In early February, Lythgoe had said that Idol finalists from previous seasons could be brought back to perform the original songs during a special Idol episode.  However Pirie told USA Today he was "95% certain" that due to Idol Gives Back, wouldn't be happening -- at least not for the sixth season.


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