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''American Idol 4'' premiere draws 33.5 million

”American Idol 4” premiere draws 33.5 million. Off-key auditions are music to Fox execs’ ears, as network attracts its third-largest audience ever

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Apparently, the American public has an insatiable appetite for hearing mangled renditions of ”Y.M.C.A.,” ”Tomorrow,” and ”You Lift Me Up.” While the Tuesday-night premiere of the fourth season of American Idol featured auditions by talent that was in most cases quite plebeian, the reality show recorded ratings that were positively regal: 33.5 million viewers, FOX’s third-largest non-sports audience ever — behind only the finale of Joe Millionaire and the second-season finale of Idol that pitted Ruben Studdard against Clay Aiken.

Idol‘s return came just in time for FOX, which finished the previous week of Jan. 10 to 16 in fourth place, with an average 9.8 million viewers. The network trailed first-place CBS (13.9 million), NBC (12.3 million) and ABC (10.7 million).

CBS led with the week’s No. 1 program, CSI, which drew 27.6 million couch potatoes, as well as Without a Trace (No. 8), 60 Minutes (No. 11) and Everybody Loves Raymond (No. 14). ABC’s Desperate Housewives, with 24 million, finished second for the week despite the fact that its five stars were all prominently featured on NBC’s timeslot competitor, the Golden Globe Awards (16.8 million, No. 10).

Also worth noting was the fact that NBC’s Medium stayed strong in its second week, growing its audience by more than 300,000 to 16.3 million (good for No. 12). And a pair of spy thrillers posted respectable numbers after high-profile season premieres in new time periods last week: ABC’s Alias and FOX’s 24 both drew slightly smaller audiences, but finished No. 20 and No. 25 respectively.