American Idol: 25 Rules Every Contestant Needs To Follow

American Idol first debuted in 2002 and was an instant success. Its success was so enormous that the show remained either in first or second position in ratings for the next decade. No show could come close to American Idol in popularity until the early 2010s, after which its diminishing popularity led to its cancellation. However, the show was brought back recently and has seen good ratings. Part of why American Idol was so insanely popular was because it was such an interactive show. The people had the voting power to decide who became the next American Idol and this gave them motivation to tune in.

The other reason why the show took off was due to the judges, whose chemistry contributed to devoted viewers. These things combined brought forward a number of rules for the people on the show. There is a long list of rules you need to adhere to if you want to be a contestant on American Idol, many of which people aren’t aware of since they’re not openly spoken of on the show. It takes all these rules gelling together for American Idol to be seamless for the most part, although controversies have been caused due to the fact that the rules have been broken before.

Now that American Idol is back on air for the foreseeable future, it’ll be wise for you as a potential contestant to brush up on the rules you need to know if you want to be featured. And if you’re a loyal viewer, then let’s see if you are aware of these rules contestants need to follow.

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25 Contestants Have To Be Between Ages 15 And 28

In our minds, people born in 1991 are still very young while those born in 2004 are pretty much babies. Well, that’s not really the case since the former is the oldest birth year one can be to be eligible for American Idol while the latter is the youngest birth year you can be to audition! That’s because the age window is strictly from 15 to 28. Anybody older or younger has no chance being on American Idol no matter how much they want it.

24 Need More Than 50-percent Of Judges' Approval

American Idol season 15 judges and host

The show usually has a three-judge panel so your mind doesn’t wander over much to the fact that a 50-percent approval from judges is actually a failure. Getting two judges to say Yes to you isn’t enough as a four-panel will attest. When you’ve got four judges, the contestants need at least three Yeses. This means for those who get four judges, they’ll need to put in an extra noteworthy performance because you’re shooting to impress more people. Two out of four judges means you’re out.

23 Wait All Day For Your Turn

Do you think Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson have to wait in line for anything? No, but they very well did when they were unknowns and auditioned for American Idol like everybody else. With thousands of people auditioning daily, there’s bound to be a very long wait, and you can’t do anything else other than wait for your turn. Think of it as the price for fame. You’re going to hate waiting for hours on end for something where you might be rejected, but that’s part and parcel of the show’s format.

22 Can’t Re-audition Once Rejected

Someone trying to be too smart might get this idea popping in their heads. After all, it might sound simple to dupe everyone by showing up for another audition in a different city. Well, we’re here to tell you that’s not an option. Once you’ve been set up for an audition, your name is locked in for that year. If you do try to snag in an audition in another city, your name will show up in their database, thereby revealing your deception.

21 Appearance Is A Factor, Not Just Talent

We all want to be appreciated for our talents and not on how we appear, which is something we have no control over, but American Idol is such that the audition process does take into consideration your selling point as far as image is considered.

25-percent of the judges’ decision is based on how the contestant looks. You can even find audition clips where the judges take shots at the expense of the person auditioning by saying they just don’t have the kind of look America will get behind. It’s harsh, but that’s just the way things are.

20 Have To Be US Residents

This should be fairly self-explanatory, but if it didn’t strike you before, here’s us reminding you about it. Since the show’s called American Idol, you should’ve gotten the hint that the person auditioning should be a US resident.

There’s no way you get a visit visa to the US and expect to get in the show. In order to qualify, you need to be living in the US at the time of the audition. So, for all those coming from abroad, that’s something you need to know.

19 Cannot Be Involved With The Judges

Back in 2002, contestant Corey Clark, according to him, had a hush-hush relationship with judge Paula Abdul. He revealed this two years later, and upon this claim the show began inquiries against Abdul.

While the result was that Clark’s claims weren’t strong enough, it was enough proof that the show doesn’t condone contestant-judge relationships. If you’re a contestant, or even a judge, being involved in any kind of romantic relationship is a severe no-no that’ll get you disqualified – in the case of a judge, fired – immediately.

18 Cannot re-audition If You Reached Later Stages

Can you remember the faces of those people who don’t get to the stage where they’re performing in front of the audiences and TV? The answer’s no, which means these people aren’t recognizable to the point that coming back the next year will be a problem.

However, for those who do reach the later stages, they are immediately disqualified the next year from auditioning again. It makes sense too, since these people already are recognizable and most likely have a fan following that can influence voters. Plus, then everyone’s going to be re-auditioning.

17 Cannot Have A Recording Contract By Semi-Finals


Since the show is about a person reaching stardom by winning a singing competition that launches their career, it makes sense that you can’t be in conflict with another recording studio.

At first, the catch for auditioning in American Idol was that you can’t have a recording company contract at all, but this was later changed to apply to only those who reach the semi-final stage. This also makes sense since those who get eliminated beforehand would be at a disadvantage if they cut their recording deals for a show that ultimately rejects them too soon.

16 Can’t Be A Candidate For Public Office

If you’re running for public office, then you clearly have a political career that’s going places. So, our question is, why on Earth do you want to audition for American Idol, then? The show removes the need for any questions as those who are in this position are disqualified from entering. If you think that’s unfair then imagine someone who’s in a position of power and influence deserting their post to go and sing along with a bunch of youngsters; does that sound ridiculous or not?

15 Have To Audition For Producers Before Judges

There are many people you watch in auditions and find them so horrible that you wonder if the show’s rigged in these stages. Well, it could be worse and people even more untalented can show up if the producers don’t intervene. The process for auditioning before the judges is actually preceded by a mini-audition in front of producers for the show. These people judge if you’re good enough for the judges and won’t just waste time and the camera’s film.

14 Can Be Eliminated At Any Time

You may be thinking by any time we mean any time on the show, but it’s the opposite. American Idol has the right to eliminate you for any kind of breach they feel is against the show’s rules. And by being eliminated at any point, we really mean you can be eliminated just about whenever the show’s producers want. This also means you won’t be going to the stage one last time; it’s curtains for your time on the show and time to pack your bags and leave.

13 Progression Is Dependent On Judges Until Semi-Finals

This point passes by people sometimes seeing that the judges offer their critique right until the very end, but their role is in fact only up until the semi-finals. Once you’re through to that stage, you’re no longer dependent on the judges to progress. Of course, this also means that you’re completely at the mercy of these judges before you get to this point. The judges have the sole power (unless some controversy springs up) to enable a contestant’s progression to the later stages.

12 Have To Perform In Groups If Judges Tell Them To

Group Stage

Unlike shows like The X Factor, American Idol centers on just the one person and he or she is the sole winner by the end of the season’s run. However, before you get to the point where you have only yourself to look out for, the judges can put the contestants in groups during the trial period.

This usually happens once the contestant is approved in the first stage and off to Hollywood, where the judges mix things up by testing the singers by placing them in groups. When this happens, you have no choice but to partake in them.

11 Can't Request Eliminated To Be Overturned

Eliminations can be overturned in rare cases such as when another contestant has been disqualified in the initial stages, which allows someone to come back on the show, but the elimination stands firm if the judges have deemed you unworthy or if you are eliminated in the later stages.

As far as the judges are concerned, if they deny progress for the later stages of the competition, the contestant has no choice but to honor that decision. Even if they feel they’ve been done wrong, the decision, and the elimination, is set.

10 Have To Sign Record Deal If They Win The Show

You might be inclined to think the show’s made by nice people who give you a platform to shine and then set you along your merry way once you win, but that’s hardly the case. American Idol in fact looks for those people who they can sign on as potential stars for the companies the show is affiliated with.

The contestants who win have to sign on to the record company American Idol has endorsed and this contract has to be honored. So, if you do become the next American Idol, you’ll have to contend with the contract you’re offered.

9 Have To Perform For Live Crowds

You have no business being on American Idol if you don’t want to face crowds for your performance. Starting from the semi-finals, the contestants have no choice but to lace up their boots and sing their hearts out in front of the audiences.

Likewise, if a contestant wants to perform in front of the audience from the start then they don’t have this option. It’s only shows like The Voice or America’s Got Talent that let contestants audition in front of large crowds from the get-go.

8 Have To Reveal Personal Details

Another very important thing contestants need to go in knowing is that American Idol will expose them a lot more than just vocally. The contestants who go on the show will most definitely have to reveal what’s going on in their personal lives.

These happenings are even recorded by the show’s producers as it gives the audience something to relate these contestants with. Once the contestant is in the later stages, it's a complete guarantee their personal life will be featured to some extent on the show.

7 Have To Go On Tour

When the show starts nearing its end stages, you’ll have noticed how the performers have their homecomings where they’re serenaded by fans. The show calls for things like this and these are part of promotional tours. When the contestant reaches the point where they need more votes from the public, they are required to promote themselves with performances that brings them exposure. This is negotiable by any means. This helps in both gaining votes for victory, and the show with its ratings.

6 Have To Accept Being Eliminated By Public

Chris Daughtry was a controversial elimination as it was expected he would go on to win the show, but was eliminated beforehand. If the contestant is regularly praised by judges, it’ll only go so far as potentially influencing voters, but it doesn’t guarantee victory. When that elimination comes, you have no option but to say goodbye. After all, it’s the votes of the public that counts once the contestant makes it to the semi-finals. After that, the power is with the people.

5 Can’t Try To Influence Judges

Some people try to play the sympathy card with the judges by (sometimes) literally begging them to put them through the next round. This does nothing but embarrass the person further as there’s no influencing the judges’ decision. Other times, people try to get the judges to like them personally so their lack of vocal talent is overlooked, but this can’t stand either. A contestant is not supposed to let anything about them other than their talent influence the judges.

4 Have To Disclose Criminal Record

The previously mentioned Corey Clark saw himself be disqualified for this very reason in the season he was featured in, and another contestant called Jermaine Jackson saw his exit happen in similar fashion. Jackson failed to mention he had been arrested for two crimes, the latter was one of violence, and was promptly dropped from the show. A contestant needs to make clear whatever crimes they’ve been charged with before they get on the show; the crimes can be overlooked, but failure to inform them is a definite no-no.

3 Can’t Have A Major Criminal Record

Although previous crimes can be disregarded, major ones really can’t be simply waved away. We’re talking those crimes that potentially involve homicide, or those where the person might be a proven offender. These crimes are an instant cause for disqualification, and you might even land yourself in jail if you’ve committed these acts and have avoided justice. So, if you happen to be a major criminal, it’s better to steer clear of auditioning for American Idol if you don’t want to get caught.

2 Can’t Use The Show For Profit

American Idol has seen many contestants take up on personal initiatives and use the show to promote these things. However, the thing that’s common about these is that they’re always for charity or for some awareness causes. You can’t go up on the show and promote your personal brand for commercial purposes. This clashes with the show’s own sponsors, who won’t take it kindly that you’re looking to make money off of a talent show opportunity. So, it’s best to leave that to social media.

1 Have To Accept Ridicule

This is more of an unspoken rule, but just might be the most important one yet. The clips that have the most views on YouTube for American Idol are those where people are getting insulted by the judges, and the reason for this is that their ridicules are pretty funny for the most part. This also means that if you happen to be a bad singer, then be very prepared to get potentially insulted for it as the judges generally don’t hold back in making fun of the contestant. Still, it makes for amusing television.

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