The Next American Idol?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the Tarusa residence near Moscow on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.
Fox's "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar" is TV's summer surprise blockbuster.

It's been described as a cross between the Cinderella aspects of "Star Search" and the humiliation of "Survivor." To say the least, it has to be viewed as a success for Fox televison. The singing competition is a British import. On the other side of the pond, it's called "Pop Idol," the mastermind of Simon Fuller — who brought us Spice Girls.

The premise is simple: bring in a parade of young, sexy performers and let the viewers help decide who nabs a recording contract. The finalists are the best of bout 10,000 original candidates. However, the contestants must also be evaluated on television by three judges: singer-dancer-choreographer Paula Abdul, record producer Randy Jackson and U.K. record exec and meanie Simon Cowell. Cowell uses his sharp tongue to slice a contestant to ribbons. The British press call him Mr. Nasty.

The show airs twice a week. On Tuesday night, the five finalists perform. After the show airs, the phone lines are opened for two hours for viewers to vote. On Wednesday night, a 30-minute show is broadcast in which the results of the voting is announced. The person with the least number of votes is eliminated.

The show's ratings are huge. "American Idol" has averaged almost 10 million viewers per episode, more than triple the audience of The WB's recent "Idol" doppelganger "Popstars," also a Brit import. Last week, some 10 million calls were recorded. "Idol" winds down Sept. 3 to two candidates. The "American Idol" winner is named on Sept. 4.

This season's winner will release his or her debut single on Sept. 24, and a full CD is slated for Nov. 26.

And while BMG subsidiary RCA Records will release a compilation disc featuring the top 10 finalists in October, the singers are contractually forbidden to record for another label for at least three months.