Season Eight of 'American Idol' Premieres on Fox
Several changes were planned for season 8. Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly stated that Idol would feature fewer "William Hung-like" contestants and "funny auditions," and would quickly move its focus to the potential singers during the earlier stages of the competition, thus moving the season at a faster pace. Mike Darnell, president of Fox's alternative programming, said the contestants would be more emotional and that viewers would learn more about them and their pasts than they had in the previous season. Songwriter and record producer Kara DioGuardi was added as a permanent fourth judge on the panel. She had previously collaborated with Celine Dion, Hilary Duff, Enrique Iglesias, Leona Lewis and Christina Aguilera, and produced several Top 40 hits. As a songwriter, she had already worked with several American Idol alumni and winners, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Archuleta and David Cook. Meanwhile, Ken Warwick became the new executive producer, as Nigel Lythgoe had left the show to focus on So You Think You Can Dance and his new show with Simon Fuller, Superstars of Dance. Idol Gives Back was canceled for season 8, as the ongoing economic crisis and recession, left Idol officials uncomfortable asking financially struggling viewers to donate. The semifinals saw the biggest change as the wild card round returned for the first time since the third season. After voters picked three finalists from each of three groups of 12 semi-finalists, the judges selected eight of the previously eliminated 27 semifinalists to return and perform a song on the March 5, 2009, show. They were judged by the panel, instead of a vote by the viewers, with four advancing to the finals. Although the finals had been billed from the beginning of the season as a set of 12 contestants, the judges announced at the last minute that they would be advancing a fourth wild card/thirteenth contestant, Anoop Desai, as well.
Another change in the Idol format, which was revealed on March 11, 2009, is that the judges are eligible to exercise a veto power on one eliminated contestant at any given point of the competition and spare them from elimination for that particular week. This can only be invoked up until the Final 5. The following week two contestants will be eliminated if the save is used because nobody is eliminated on the week that the save is used. The save can only be used once and it must be unanimous.