By Michael Slezak
Updated July 30, 2020 at 05:23 PM EDT

After stops in Nashville, Milwaukee, and New Orleans, American Idol‘s season 10 auditions continue tomorrow in East Rutherford, N.J. That innocuous bit of information has led to scads of people asking me the same question over the last few days: How can the show hold its tryouts when it hasn’t even got its judging panel in place? (If you’ve been living in a sensory-deprivation chamber the last few days, Ellen DeGeneres revealed on Thursday night that she’s leaving the show, while the remainder of the season 10 panel has yet to be announced.) Here’s the short answer: Very easily.

For those of you who don’t eat, drink, and dream Idol, here’s what you need to know: Every year, the show holds a series of cattle-call auditions across the country where a good 10-15,000 folks show up at a massive stadium and sing in front of an Idol producer or vocal coach. If the audition is good (or train-wrecky) enough, the singer then returns for a callback approximately one month later, where he or she performs in front of the Idol judges.

The same process is in place this year. Idol‘s cattle-call tryouts kicked off July 17 in Nashville (where a whopping 16,000 folks showed up) and will carry on through August 19 in San Francisco. According to sources close to the show, callbacks in front of the season 10 judging panel won’t happen till September at the earliest.

Season 6 third-place finisher Melinda Doolittle tells me her initial, un-televised audition took place among a five-figure crowd of fellow hopefuls at the FedEx Forum in Nashville. Her callback, where she memorably sang Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” in front of Simon Cowell & Co., occurred several weeks later at the Memphis Convention Center. “Tell your readers not to worry,” Doolittle says, laughing. “The show still has plenty of time to decide who their judges will be!”

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