<EM>American Idol</EM> boss Ken Warwick assesses the new season. American Idol boss Ken Warwick assesses the new season.

Did one of this season's American Idol wannabes almost call it quits? Are those seeking to rock the vote succeeding? And is Sanjaya's "success" a liability for the popular singing competition? Idol executive producer Ken Warwick addressed those topics and more in a Tuesday conference call with reporters.

Late last week, upon Chris Sligh's ouster, the big story was that the big guy had allegedly inquired into dropping out of the competition a few weeks prior. TVGuide.com asked Warwick if he was in the loop on that possible departure — and his answer might surprise you. "Um, Chris Sligh sometimes talks out of turn, to be absolutely honest," Warwick told us. "I was never, ever aware that he came to the producers asking to be dropped out of the competition, so I don't know what he's going on about. He's stirring up interest in himself, and I wish him the best of luck — he's got a good voice — but I was never aware of that, and I think I would have been!"

Warwick later added that another of Sligh's grousings — that singers are forbidden from singing songs they've written themselves — wasn't completely true either. "We never tell them they can't do anything, but we can advise them at certain places," he said. "The truth of the matter is we just advised him against [singing his own song]. We did not tell him he couldn't do it, we just said, 'Chris, it's not a good idea. People do not respond and relate to songs they've never heard before.'"

Warwick also spoke on the hot topics of:

... the media's obsession with Sanjaya, for better or for worse:
"The fact of the matter is that someone on the show getting attention doesn't really bother me, obviously. What I love about this business is keeping people interested, and he's certainly doing that. It's a competition, so you do whatever you can to keep your face there!"

... upcoming theme weeks:
"You've got J.Lo and Latino music coming up next week, you've got Jon Bon Jovi coming up for what I guess would be rock week.... There are interesting things coming up."

... how harsh judging can backfire:
"The fact of the matter is [Simon, Paula and Randy] do influence the viewers, but when they go too far, the viewers have a great way of bringing them back down to earth. The day that Simon said [to Haley Scarnato], "You're so insignificant I can't even remember your name" — which was really, really harsh and uncalled for — the public absolutely responded with, 'Screw you, Simon!' and the kid was way up that week."

... the possibility that robo-voting — namely, one man's claim to have voted for Sanjaya 34,000 times last week — is messing with Idol outcomes:
"There's been expensive equipment in place to stop this block voting ever since it came up in Year 1... and never once has it been used. There is very often [phone voting] congestion at the local level, but there has never been congestion at the national level. [Busy signals occur] at the local exchanges, not the national exchange, which I can't do anything about. The voting is as straight and as fair as it can possibly be, and anybody who says otherwise is not telling the truth."

... the first time he heard LaKisha and Melinda sing:
"I said those voices had to be on the program. They are very strong, very powerful, very good voices, and they deserve to be in that top-24 spot. End of story."

... Haley's considerable charms:
"I like her a lot. She's quite a shy girl — that's the problem, that she's not in your face all the time — but she's a lovely kid, she looks good, and she has a good voice. I don't care what Simon says!"

... the impact of campaigns by Howard Stern and one dubious website to keep Sanjaya undeservedly in the mix:
"It's very minimal, to be truthful. There is very little hype anybody can do that would affect the vast number of votes that we get. Even if every single person who listened to Howard Stern voted, the gap above and below Sanjaya is so big that it swallows that up and it doesn't affect the outcome at all."

... how Sanjaya is surviving:
"Say what you like about Sanjaya, he's not actually got a bad voice, and he changes things up week-on-week; he's always a talking point the next day.... He's a good-looking kid, and young girls love good-looking kids. He's not as bad a singer as everybody makes him out to be. And part of this business is your communication with your audience, and he's certainly got that. Personally, I don't expect him to be there in the end, but you never know. It's not up to me, it's up to the public."

Catch up with past American Idol finalists in this video.

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