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'American Idol' producer: Top 13 twist not the season's "big surprise"


By Christopher Rocchio, 03/09/2009 

American Idol's "big" eighth-season surprise is apparently still a secret.

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The decision to feature 13 finalists instead of 12 -- a format twist that was unveiled at the conclusion of last Thursday night's special "Wild Card Round" broadcast -- was not the "big surprise" that Fox reality chief Mike Darnell had previously teased earlier this year, according to producer Ken Warwick

"There is a big surprise coming," Warwick told E! News in a Friday report.  "You'll never guess what it is, but it's something that rears its head every season and it's huge."

Warwick said conversations surrounding the possibility of adding a thirteenth finalist only popped up a couple of weeks ago due to the eighth season's high talent level.

"[We thought] we might be in trouble when we come to the wild card because it's almost unfair to get rid of two kids if they're really, really great," Warwick told USA Today after Thursday night's broadcast. "We discussed it beforehand and if we got to the point where it was needed, then we would do it."

Warwick added that he made the final decision to include a thirteenth finalist during a Thursday night commercial break after consulting with judge Simon Cowell.

"When we got down to the final two, with [Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai], it became evident actually that, 'Let's do it. Let's go with the 13 and worry about it afterwards,'" Warwick told USA Today.

In addition, new Idol judge Kara DioGuardi said she didn't even know there would be 13 finalists until the last minute.

"I'm always the last to know anything. It was down to the end of the show, I didn't know," she told E! News. "There wasn't even talk about it! We were unanimous on [Megan Corkrey]. We were unanimous on Matt. And I think Anoop, too."

To accommodate the extra finalist without interrupting Idol's broadcast schedule, Warwick told USA Today that it is "likely" two finalists will be eliminated one week of the competition -- although he didn't specify which week it would occur.

Darnell had teased in January that Idol's eighth season would feature a "big surprise."

"There's a big surprise coming when we get to the Top 12, but I can't reveal it right now," he told TV Week at the time.  "It is something that will be talked about and is something I think that has some element of controversy surrounding it."

While Darnell declined to reveal specifics about the eighth-season surprise, he hinted that it would not impact the show's "core."

"It's not going to change what you think of American Idol and we don't want to do that," he told TV Week.  "This show is, you know, a phenomenon. It's American, it's apple pie. We're not changing the core of the show."

Idol's first eighth-season finals performance show will air on Tuesday and feature performances from all thirteen of the season's finalists -- Corkrey, Giraud, Desai, Jasmine Murray, Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver, Danny Gokey, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert, Lil Rounds, Scott MacIntyre and Jorge Nunez.

(Photo credit Fox)


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