Fox has a serious case of Idol worship.

Faster than you can say Chilean karaoke, the network has given the green light to a second installment of its summer reality hit American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, in which wannabe popsters try to impress a panel of dissing judges--not to mention phone-equipped viewers--by massacring their way through the greatest hits catalogues of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Motown.

A British import that mixes Making the Band with elements of Survivor and Big Brother, the show features a panel that includes onetime pop diva Paula Abdul, hulking record exec/producer Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell, the snickering Brit whose catty put-downs are often better than the contestant's performances. (Cowell is a longtime A&R honcho in England and is responsible for several U.K. pop acts, most notably Westlife.)

The trio of judges spent several weeks at auditions nationwide, suffering through a parade of tone-deaf singers before winnowing down the field to 30. Then, viewers at home got to choose which contestants would advance and which would go back to singing in the shower. Each week the field narrows. There are currently eight performers left; the winner gets a record deal and a management contract.

Since debuting June 11, American Idol has aired twice a week (on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and managed to maintain a healthy 9.8 million viewers. This despite the sometimes ear drum-splitting, stomach-churning music and the shamless plugs for sponsors Coca-Cola and Ford. It regularly charts in the Nielsen top 15 and pulls in strong numbers among viewers 18-34, the demographic prized by advertisers.

Still, the show hasn't been without its hitches. One of the semifinalists was booted two weeks ago after Fox discovered he had shaved six years off his age. He was really 29, not 23 as his doctored driver's license claimed. The show only permits people between the ages of 16 and 24 to compete.

Fox says its Idol sequel will likely premiere sometime in January or February.

Cowell, a holdover from the U.K. original (called Pop Idol), is on board for a sequel--even though he claims he has had to hire two beefy bodyguards to protect him from enraged Idol rejects. Hosts Ryan Seacrest, a Los Angeles deejay, and Brian Dunkleman, a stand-up comic and actor, will also come back for a sequel, according to Fox insiders. No word yet on whether Abdul and Jackson will make an encore appeance.

In the meantime, the inaugural season of American Idol continues. The winner will be determined during a two-hour finale on September 24.

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