''American Idol'' sets Jan. 18 premiere date. After auditions and semifinals, performance episodes will begin Feb. 22

By Gary Susman
Updated November 18, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

The long wait to find the next Fantasia, Clay, Ruben, or Kelly is almost over. Fox announced that the fourth season of American Idol will kick off with a two-hour premiere on Jan. 18. First, of course, the judges will find the next William Hung, as early episodes track auditions held a couple months ago in Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Orlando, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. After three weeks of hearing the most self-deluded singers in America, there’ll be two weeks of semifinals beginning Feb. 8. Performance shows finally begin on Feb. 22. So start exercising your thumbs, text-messaging voters.