After becoming the first in the North American "Idol" franchise to allow hopefuls to play instruments a year ago, "Canadian Idol" is getting innovative once again, implementing a multitude of changes this season, with more to come.

"There's a rule at 'Canadian Idol,' and the rule is, there are no rules," executive producer John Brunton said in an interview.

"One of the aspects of the format is that the format has got to keep changing. I don't know if they feel that way in the States or anywhere else, but they certainly watch what we do and often copy what we do."

The changes to the hit talent show began even before this sixth season started airing, when producers announced that for the first time, hopefuls would be allowed to submit audition videos online.

Then last week, when viewers tuned in to see who would make it to the standard Top 22 semifinal group of 11 guys and 11 girls, there were two big surprises: the group was expanded to 24 due to the high calibre of talent, and it had an uneven gender split - 15 guys and nine girls.

What's more, producers are breaking from the traditional format of having men perform one night and women on another. Instead, both male and female singers will take to the stage on the same night - 12 on Monday and 12 on Tuesday - on CTV.

Viewers won't know who is performing on what night and, in the results show on Wednesdays, more than two contestants may get the boot.

"There are going to be changes and surprises, my hope is, right until the last gasp," said Brunton, a longtime TV producer and Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame inductee who has worked on the Juno Awards for 14 years.

The male dominance on the show is simply a result of more males - particularly older ones (the age limit is 28) - turning up for the countrywide auditions than females this year, said Brunton. As a result, the judges were faced with more male talent than female talent that deserved a shot at the title, he said.

Fans on the "Canadian Idol" online forum appear divided on the uneven gender split, with some saying it makes sense and others worried it will influence voting in favour of men. The vast majority of "Canadian Idol" voters are female, said Brunton, but it's anybody's guess how that will affect results.

It all boils down to talent, said Brunton, and if the females have it, then they'll do well.

Having more male performers may also mean they will have to work harder to stand out amongst each other, he said.

As for why more men tried out for the show this year than women, Brunton proposed a theory that Canada is a country of more rock-oriented artists then pop-driven ones. And since rocker Brian Melo won "Idol" last season and rocker Jacob Hoggard did well in Season 2, more men in that genre may be giving the show a second thought, he said.

Last month's "American Idol" win of rocker David Cook may also influence that trend in the future, although Brunton said there's no telling what next season will bring.

"It's like a sports season," he said.

"The success and failure of 'Idol' depends entirely on the season and who's hot and who's not."

"Canadian Idol" has always been a ratings juggernaut, and so far this season it has been among the most-watched programs in Canada, according to BBM Nielsen figures.

But this past season of "American Idol" saw a drop in viewership and Brunton isn't shy about stating the motive behind the upcoming surprises on "Canadian Idol."

"It's a ratings ploy," he said with a chuckle.

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