The ninth season of Fox’s “American Idol” kicks off tonight amid the news that judge Simon Cowell is quitting the show after this season.  Cowell made the announcement at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California Monday.  After this season concludes, “Idol’s” most cantankerous judge will concentrate his energy on bringing the American version of Britain’s “X-Factor” stateside.



Tonight’s two-hour season premiere of “Idol” begins with the Boston auditions.  But new judge Ellen DeGeneres, who replaces Paula Abdul, isn’t a part of them.  According to, DeGeneres wasn’t hired to fill Abdul’s shoes until after the audition process was complete.  Since DeGeneres didn’t attend the auditions, her only way of getting to know the new contestants has been to study videos of the contestants who tried out last summer for judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Kara DioGuardi.  The new judge takes her job seriously, telling, quote, “It’s spotting that star talent early on that’s the interesting thing, because you don’t want to let anybody slip through and not give them that chance.”  DeGeneres will pick up with the show when “Idol’s” “Hollywood Week” episodes begin airing on February 9th. reports that fans of “American Idol” will notice some changes to this new season of the show.  The Wild Card round has been eliminated.  Another change includes the return to a Top 24 format instead of the Top 36 format the show had been using.  “Idol Gives Back,” the show’s charity fundraiser event, also returns after a hiatus.  It’s set to air during the Top Seven results show on April 21st.  Celebrity judges this season will include Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry, Mary J. Blige, Shania Twain, and Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham.  “American Idol” premieres tonight and tomorrow night in a two-night premiere event at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Fox.