Simon Cowell, <EM>American Inventor</EM> Simon Cowell, American Inventor

With $1 million in seed money at stake and a bevy of Caractacus Potts wannabes in queue, ABC's American Inventor  cocreated and executive-produced by American Idol icon Simon Cowell  offers the promise of actually impacting the millions of us who don't necessarily worship pop-music newbies. After all, the winner of this amateur-inventor competition might bring into our homes a product that is both revolutionary and desperately needed, right? Um... maybe?

At the very least, American Inventor (premiering with a two-hour special tonight at 8 pm, then airing Thursdays at 9 pm/ET) promises to bring to your television screen a parade of characters  "a million" of them, to hear Cowell tell it. "I sat through a number of the auditions quietly in the back of a room," he shares, "and I would say that 90 percent of these people have devoted their entire life to this one single idea they think will make them famous."

Having reviewed the first few episodes, Cowell says that the idea of a reality contest about ideas and things is as compelling as one about idols who sing. "It definitely works," he reports. "We wondered at the beginning, 'Can we create that level of craziness we have on Idol?' And this show has a lot of similarities in that you can relate to the person coming into the room. You can form an opinion early on. It's got the flavor of the kind of shows I like to be involved in. It's about giving normal people an opportunity and [watching] all the insanity that follows."

Along those lines, yes, some of the players certainly can be typified as "normal," while others definitely bring the insanity. "What we always try to do on these shows is offer a mixture between the good, heartwarming stories and the people who come in partially or completely disillusioned," Cowell says with a chuckle. "The first person you're going to see kind of typifies [the latter category] a dental hygienist who walks in wearing a suit carrier that you can pee in in public. It's like, 'OK, here we go!'"

While that unsettling notion lingers in your mind... Cowell estimates that "60 percent" of the 10,000 people who tried out for American Inventor are flakes  "and by 'flakes' I mean [people with] just ridiculous ideas that would never have had the chance to win. But every person who came in the [audition] room had a product they believed would change your life."

Mind you, one of those seminal designs is a racetrack for cockroaches, touted by a man wearing an astronaut suit. Another is a wand  "We called it a stick," Cowell scoffs  designed to ward off mountain lions and cougars.

"It's not a show about gadgets," Cowell points out. "[The ideas] are much more interesting than that. They are more bizarre. Some of the ones that got through are incredible, really incredible."

At the culmination of the 10-week run, at which point the public gets to vote in the series finale, Cowell says, "I think we'll find something that does revolutionize... something."