Clay Aiken was "saved" from obscurity by Idol's Wild Card round, which is now back in play.

American Idol is plumbing its past to bolster its future, in the wake of a seven percent audience decline for the previous cycle.

Among the changes on tap for Season 8, premiering Jan. 13, is the resurrection of two elements from seasons gone by — one of which affects game play, the other offering fun (if not deliciously catty) insight into the semifinalists.

As hinted in recent weeks, Season 8 will reinstitute the Wild Card round, in which singers who don't make the Top 9 are afforded one last chance to improve their fortune and thus comprise the Top 12.

"We want to change things up a bit," exec producer Ken Warwick tells Though the exact process has yet to be cemented, he says, "The judges can pick anybody they like that they thought maybe was better but just off form and then decide on three" from that group. Such a "save" is what kept eventual second-placer Clay Aiken in the Season 2 mix.

Also during the now-extended Hollywood round, Idol will spend time behind the scenes with the singers, chronicling the tomfoolery, tension and backstabbing which transpires during the hotel hallway rehearsals and run-throughs. (Invariably, one wannabe will choose a late-night hook-up over committing lyrics to memory, invoking the ire of his/her group members.) "I like that [look backstage] a lot," says Warwick. "I can't remember the reason we did away with it, but it very definitely is back this year."

Warwick's thoughts on two other tweaks to the new cycle of America's favorite reality competition:

Four's Company
Noting that the panel always featured four judges on the U.K. version of Idol, Warwick says that newcomer Kara DioGuardi "is fitting in vey well. She's a great singer ... and on a number of occasions she'll say, 'No, you should sing it like this' and she lets rip. It's great."

Idol Gives Back Won't Be Back
Explaining the decision to give the charitable effort a rest this cycle and, come 2010, adopt an every-other-year timetable, Warwick says, "It is an incredible stretch" of manpower to work the star-studded spectacle into an already intense season. "To add the weight of a huge charity show ... is very, very difficult," especially with the big finale coming just weeks later.

All told, Warwick insists that "no panic changes" have been made to Idol, only ones that made sense at this juncture in the show's run. As he notes, "We wouldn't have been on TV for eight years if it wasn't doing it right."

What's your take? Do you welcome the return of the "wild card" element? Psyched to revisit the hotel antics?