'American Idol' makes radical change for how to view and vote

When American Idol was rebooted by ABC, the network and the production company, FremantleMedia, made some changes, including new judges and a new set. They kept all of the elements that made the series a long-running success -- until now.

Starting next Sunday (April 29), the series will undergo one of the most radical changes in its 16-year history, as the entire country will be able to view and vote at the same time, with real-time results announced at the end of each Sunday night broadcast. Idol will air live from 8-10 pm ET, 5-7 pm PT and 2-4 pm in Hawaii.

“I come from the U.K. where there is one time zone,” says Trish Kinane, series executive producer and FremantleMedia North America President, entertainment programming. “We’re used to having results at the end of a show. One of the struggles in the U.S. has been what to do about east coast and west coast voting. How do you get central and mountain time and everyone to have the same experience at the same time? There hasn’t really been a solution to it. Lots of people have tried it. You could vote on Twitter, but then you’re not watching the performance on which you’re voting. Or on Rising Star, they did an add-on for the west coast. It was uncomfortable and unsatisfactory.”

Simulcasting American Idol throughout all 50 United States is the brainchild of Rob Mills, senior VP of Alternative Series, Specials & Late-Night Programming for ABC Entertainment. “When we got the show, we were tasked with what’s going to be different about ABC’s version,” Mills tells Billboard. “We talked about live voting. Maybe we don’t include the west coast because it’s not as big a part of the country, but we love the immediacy of live. Because it’s going to be airing on Sunday, people are home to watch it and maybe the affiliates would get behind the idea. To their credit, the affiliates completely embraced it. They wanted to be part of something that is honestly historic. And it was so exciting for us because it puts Idol on par with the Oscars and the Super Bowl. Everybody in the country is going to be able to vote at the same time and at the end of two hours, the contestants are living or dying. And that’s a big deal.”

“ABC has gone a long way to make this happen,” acknowledges Kinane. “It’s the first time in the history of American television that a competition show had had a simulcast where you can view and vote at the same time. By the end of the show you’ve got results. I think this is going to give Ryan a lot to work with because we’re going to see the votes coming in in real time during the show.”

The top 10 contestants will sing Disney songs on next Sunday’s episode, which will open with the competitors inside the Disneyland park in Anaheim, Calif. By the end of the show, three singers will be eliminated.

Idol will re-air at 8pm PT each week but voting will already be closed and the results known. The only exception to the national simulcast will be the performance finale on Sunday, May 20. Viewers will be able to vote overnight and results will be announced on the season finale on Monday, May 21.