The inner workings of Australian Idol
Some people are skeptical of Australian (Pop) Idol because of the various forces involved in making it run. Advertising, pop music, SMS, and young singers taken to extremes all combine to make for a very high skepticism co-efficient. Once you get over the sheer evil forces that are at play, however, you can begin to look at the format a little more logically. I often marvel at how Australian Idol does it's thing, and what makes it different from shows like pop-stars.
I won't count the obvious points like the fact that voting to keep people in the contest obviously means that the people that stay in the contest are going to have more people willing to vote for them.
The first thing is the ridiculous amount of time they spend on developing the personality of the "characters". If you invest in them mentally, the idea is that you'll vote. If you don't, it's because you're ridiculously cheap and wouldn't have voted no matter how good the show. The second is how they make the singers choose covers. If they sing a new song, even if it's good, people have no "memories" associated with that song, so it only sounds as good as it is. A song which people are heavily invested in wrt memories is a song which doesn't need to be sung all that well.
Third is the fact that they're singers. Not everyone really knows the difficulty of playing an instrument, but everyone's tried their hand at singing, so they can really empathise with the singers. The difficulty is well appreciated, and even from a skill-only viewpoint, the show is interesting to watch, because the contestants are pushed hard and evolve throughout the "game". The fourth thing is the way they cut down the contestants: first really heavily, then light. This way you're voting to get people in, then voting to make sure they stay in. The fact that the number scales down is very important in keeping interest (if they keep the number high there's too much churn, too low and there's not enough choice).
The final thing is more subtle, and it's got to do with the format, but it's arguably the most powerful force in the show: mutual contestant respect. People who leave get a farewell and a final song. This heartfelt moment gives closure for those who vote for that contestant. It also shows the other contestants enjoying the song, crying along, clapping loudly at the end. The voter is then ready to "move on" to one of the other contestants (who obviously respects the one who left).
Pure... evil... genius!