Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Idol rule change draws criticism

American Idol winners
The show has spawned successful careers for lots of contestants

Critics are dismayed by a rule change introduced to hit talent show American Idol, which gives judges the power to save an act from public elimination.

Some TV insiders have called the move, which can be performed just once during the series and must be agreed by all four judges, "un-American".

The show, now in its seventh year, is the most popular programme in the US.

Pioneered by Simon Fuller, the show has launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson.

Traditionally, contestants have been selected or eliminated by public vote alone.

The 'Judges Save', announced earlier this week, is seen as a radical departure from the successful viewer-driven format of previous years.

"To the extent that Idol sells itself as an exercise in democracy, in which you choose your next pop star, it needs to be pure," wrote James Poniewozik of

Ratings dip

Producers said the rule change was intended to avoid situations such as the early departure of contestant Jennifer Hudson, who went on win the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the film of the musical Dreamgirls.

Ratings for the current eighth series have dipped, despite a host of changes to the format, announced in December.

They included the reintroduction of "wild card" finalists - handpicked by the judges - and a fourth judge, singer-songwriter Kara Dioguardi.

Dioguardi joined regular judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

Ratings for Idol are down about nine percent at the midway point, compared to last year - with an average of 24-25 million viewers compared to 28.1 million.

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