Synopsis by Hal Erickson
In between seasons two and three of Fox's phenomenally popular talent contest American Idol, first-season winner Kelly Clarkson teamed with that same season's runnerup Justin Guarini to star in the theatrical feature From Justin to Kelly. Unfortunately (or, depending upon one's opinion of From Justin to Kelly, fortunately), second-season winner Ruben Studdard didn't have enough time to exploit his newfound celebrity in a similar manner. Beginning January 19, 2004, the series' third season gets under way with several weeks' worth of auditions held in New York, Atlanta, Houston, LA, San Francisco and Hawaii (this last episode would receive an inordinate amount of press coverage in that state when the Hawaiian semifinalist turned out not to be the favorite among American Idol viewers and voters). Once the wheat is separated from the chaff, the audience is treated to a special episode about the "lost" contestants--with emphasis on the reasons that they were not only lost, but would probably stay lost! There'll be a later special episode in a similar vein, focusing on notorious runner-up William Hung, who would unexpectedly become a recording sensation despite his stunning lack of singing ability (or even a sense of pitch!) Finally the 32 lucky contestants are chosen, from which will be gleaned the 12 semi-finalists. As the contest proceeds, there'll be return visits from such popular American Idol "losers" as Clay Aiken and Tamyra Gray, not as aspirants but as celebrities. Inevitably, the semifinalists are pared down to two: Fantasia Barrino an dDiana DeGarmo, who square off in the season's two-hour finale, which originally aired live. Without giving away the name of the winner, it can be noted that she will ultimately join previous winners Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Stoddard in a tuneful American Idol holiday special, telecast November 24, 2004.