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"Idol" Going Underground Online

Think you've got what it takes to be the next Carrie Underwood...or at least William Hung?

Wannabes hankering for a shot at American Idol, but who don't want to deal with auditioning in front of Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell for the Fox competition can now take their act online.

Idol's London-based producer, FreemantleMedia, has sealed a deal with Internet start-up company Fluid Audio Networks to launch American Idol Underground, a Web-based service that will give music hopefuls a chance to showcase their talents before a panel of celebrity judges.



But don't expect Abdul, Jackson, Cowell or host Ryan Seacrest--Fluid and Freemantle say that aside from the moniker, the venture won't have any direct connection to the top-rated TV show.

Freemantle is licensing the Idol brand name to Fluid, which will operate the network at IdolUnderground.com.

To enter, Netizens must fork over a $50 entry fee and then upload their music in any genre they please--rock, pop, electronica, folk, blues, classical, Christian, country, R&B and hip-hop.

American Idol Underground guarantees at least 200 spins per song and listeners will be given the opportunity to vote on each track on a 1 to 10 scale. The better the song, the more it will be played. At the end of every six months, the top-rated tunes from each month in each genre will go before a panel of celebrity experts who will decide the winner in each category.

Contestants won't be awarded anything as big as the $1 million recording contracts bestowed on fourth season Idol winner Underwood and her TV predecessors. Instead, according to American Idol Underground producers, the winners will get smaller prizes and big exposure for their music. As opposed to the TV show, which searches solely for singers, the Internet-based radio station is being marketed to a variety of musicians.

"American Idol, the TV show, is linear in its focus in that it's one genre of music, one time slot, one champion. And essentially the premise of the show is somebody will be discovered," says Fluid Audio founder Justin Beckett.

"The premise of Underground is that you'll get your music heard and as a byproduct you may become successful. There are so many aspiring musicians who just want to get a little feedback. To a degree, our promise is a lot more egalitarian...it's about the musicianship."

Beckett says that prizes will be given away, weekly, monthly and biannually both in the form of music-related services, such as studio time or sponsored mini-tours, as well as cash awards. There will also be goodies given away to fans. The idea, as he puts it, is to break down the walls between the artists and listeners and help those musicians develop communities of devotees.

But unlike Idol, the radio station isn't going to be in the business of managing the artists.

"We are not a record label nor do we profess to be a record label. I would love for one of our acts to get so successful to scoop them up and make a record out of them," he said. "Our artists will be American Idol Underground champions...We're going to have [many] winners. We're about celebrating the artist and spreading it around."

In addition to its deal with Fluid, Freemantle is also said to be considering setting up an Idol satellite radio network. That's in addition to all the lucrative licensing agreements the company has in the works for all sorts of Idol-branded merchandise, ranging from backpacks and handbags to Barbie Dolls.

American Idol Underground is scheduled to go live in October to coincide with tryouts for the fifth season of American Idol.
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