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DeGeneres' debut on 'Idol' helps boost show's ratings

Ellen DeGeneres' debut on "American Idol" drove up ratings for the singing contest and drew praise from fellow judge Kara DioGuardi.

"Ellen brought a sense of humor, of course, but I think she knows more about music than you think she does," DioGuardi told a teleconference yesterday, adding, "I think she did an incredible job for her first time here." While declining to compare DeGeneres to her predecessor, Paula Abdul, DioGuardi said the comedian and talk show host showed she can assess a contestant's star quality and talent and still be kind, The Associated Press reports.

DioGuardi, who is in her second year as an "Idol" judge, said that speculation about tension on the set between DeGeneres and fellow judge Simon Cowell is unfounded.

"I think you have to take any rumor you hear about 'American Idol' with a grain of salt. They're usually not true," DioGuardi said. "Last year, it was Kara and Paula fighting, hate each other . . . These things are just ridiculous."

The judges are there to "do one thing, that's to find the greatest contestant, 'American Idol' winner, we can find. That's what the focus is. I know Ellen and Simon both take that seriously," she said.

DeGeneres joined the show Tuesday for the first round of "Hollywood Week," the post-audition phase in which 181 contestants will be narrowed down to 24 semifinalists.

"American Idol," which has long reigned as TV's No. 1 series but has seen viewership slip, got a welcome ninth-season ratings boost from DeGeneres' debut.

Viewership was up by double-digits over last Tuesday's episode among total viewers (12 percent) and the advertiser-favored young adult audience (10 percent), according to preliminary Nielsen Co. figures. Next to the season premiere, DeGeneres' first show was the second-highest rated of the season among both groups of viewers.

Ratings also rose compared to last season's first Hollywood week episode, up by 4 percent among total viewers, at least 1 percent among young adults and by 8 percent among teenagers.

The last figure is significant given that "Idol" has seen an inevitable ratings slide as it ages and must attract new and younger viewers to hold or reverse course.

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