Wild card contestants may come from outside the top 36, will likely be picked by judges

There’s a lot of contradictory information about next week’s American Idol 8 wild card episode, but one thing seems to be now clear: the return of the wild card round will feature the judges, not viewers, selecting the final three finalists from a group of eight or nine performers–and those contestants might not just be members of the top 36 who got rejected during the semi-final rounds.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how those who perform during that episode will be chosen, but as part of a conversation with Simon Cowell, USA TODAY reports that “the judges [will] bring back eight or nine singers — not necessarily just from the semifinals — and pick three to round out the Top 12.”

While it’s perhaps surprising enough that some of the performers may not be familiar to us, the Los Angeles Times actually suggests that the wild card contestants may not even come from those who we’ve seen this season, because “[i]n theory, the producers have left themselves room to bring anyone on Earth into the wild card, as long as they meet the ‘Idol’ age limits, etc.”

That the judges and producers will select the wild card performers contradicts, as Newsday’s Verne Gay reports, what executive producer Ken Warwick recently told reporters: “Each week, you’ll get the top boy, the top girl and the next-highest vote through. And then … the fourth [highest vote-getter] from those three shows will go through” to next Thursday’s wild card episode, Warwick said. Gay notes that the show “is now waffling on the exact terms of who gets in and who doesn’t.”

The show’s own web site contradicts both Warwick and the newspapers’ reports, saying that the “episode will feature the judges’ favorite remaining contestants battling it out live for a coveted spot in the next phase of the competition.” That makes it sound like the judges will decide from the 27 remaining semi-finalists.

Whatever happens will be revealed next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, if not earlier. That will be the second Thursday episode in two weeks, as the live performance show was moved to Wednesday this week because of President Obama’s address last night, so the live results show will air Thursday at 8, opposite Survivor Tocantins. (Because there’s no viewer voting, next week’s Thursday episode will be the only wild card round episode.)

As to tonight’s episode, Simon Cowell says it will be better than last week’s problem-filled live performance show. He criticized that episode, saying it “didn’t quite gel. There were some audio issues. The lighting felt too light, too daytime. We know what went wrong and what we’re going to do to fix it,” he told USA TODAY. As to the judging, Cowell said, “I’d almost fallen asleep at one point because it was taking so long to get to me. So we’re going to have to speed things up a little bit.”

Cowell also promised “there are better singers to come” and said the wild card round will help. “I think when we put the 12 together, there will be more personality, more interest and just more diversity,” he said.

‘American Idol’ aims to enliven its upcoming live shows [USA TODAY]
Burning question: Who will be in the ‘wild card’ round? [Los Angeles Times]
Will Anoop Desai snag American Idol’s wild card? [Newsday]
American Idol Top 36 Revealed! [American Idol]

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.