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From left, American Idol’s Simon Cowell, Ryan Seacrest, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson return to the airwaves on Jan. 16.

A REALLY BIG SHOW: Everyone knows — and Fox is banking on the fact — that the new season of American Idol will dominate ratings from its first two-hour episode on Jan. 16.

Just what the producers of the show can do to top themselves is a mystery, but according to the New York Daily News, they think they can do it.

"Something we’re working on is a big-event show, sometime in the middle of the season, something that will blow America away," said Idol executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz.

Idol is that rare show that, despite confident predictions of its imminent demise, gains ratings every year. The Tuesday episodes of last season’s Idol were watched by an average of 31.02 million American viewers, putting it handily in the No. 1 ratings spot, and that season bettered the previous season by some three million viewers.

"Look," said Frot-Coutaz, on the possibility of a downturn in ratings, "it’s always in the back of your mind. The only thing we can do is make the best show we can and find the best talent as possible. The rest, some of it is up to Fox and how they promoted it. The rest is the competitive landscape. If we keep giving (viewers) something entertaining, it will be fine."

Just what the mid-season surprise might be remains a secret for the moment, but it’s always fun to speculate. Personally, I have a vision of host Ryan Seacrest stepping to the lip of the stage at the mid-point of the show one Tuesday night in spring and addressing the audience, both in front of the stage and on TV:

Seacrest: At this point in the show I’d like to share a little thought with everyone that has kept the team making American Idol together since the first auditions for the first season, four long years ago. Whenever things get tough, and we’re up against it in the editing room or at the end of a long day of tryouts, we just look at each other and laugh and say, ‘Wow, it’s amazing the crap people will listen to, isn’t it?’ " It never fails to crack up Simon, at least.

Simon Cowell: It gets me every time, Ryan. And hey — I’m tone deaf! I sit here, and I might as well be listening to a shooting range, or the spare generators outside the studio here!

Seacrest: Too funny, Simon. It’s funny because it’s true, isn’t that right, Paula?

Paula Abdul: Raisin Bran, Ryan! Corduroy slacks. Plumber’s crack. Wubbada wubbada woo.

Seacrest: Oh, Paula. You’re completely out of your mind, aren’t you? My life is hell! Why won’t somebody shoot me?


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