While American Idol is still a ratings powerhouse and one of the strongest franchises on television, there is no denying that the brand has taken more than its fair share of lumps since Jordin Sparks was crowned the winner of the show's sixth season. In addition to stillborn debuts from last season's two finalists (Blake Lewis and the aforementioned Miss Sparks), past winners like Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard were both recently unceremoniously dropped from their recording deals. So when confronted with waning ratings during this season's tiresome pre-series run of "Hey, Look At That Jackass" moments, it seems that Idol producers turned to a tride and true gimmick in order to get people talking about their show once again. They created a controversy.

It's no secret that a large part of the appeal of American Idol is based on its proven track record of being able to catapault regular Joes (for example, a certain pear-shaped waitress from Texas) off of their couches and onto the top of the charts. However, when it came time to select the Final 24 this season, fearful producers decided that the amateur talent couldn't hack the load and, consequently, to stack the deck with a few ringers. We have already talked a bit about Carly Smithson (née Hennessy), but we just stumbled across some new details about her yesterday over at Vote For The Worst. Namely, they learned that Randy Jackson was working as the Senior VP of A&R when Smithson was signed to the label!

While doing some research for this Today Show piece that ran this morning (starring none other than Defamer's version of Ole Blue Eyes), we also learned another juicy detail about one of the contestants. Kristy Lee Cook, heir (and hair) apparent to Carrie Underwood, was once signed to Arista Nashville by, get this, Britney Spears' production company! And also that another contestant, Michael Johns, once fronted a major label rock act called The Rising (while using the name Michael Lee). Whether or not an "amateur" or one of these experienced pros ends up winning the contest, one thing is certain — people are talking about Idol again. Mission accomplished, producers, mission accomplished.