Despite losing judge Paula Abdul, "American Idol" started its ninth season on a high note with an estimated audience of nearly 30 million people
Tuesday's viewership nearly matched last year's season debut audience of 30.4 million, according to preliminary Nielsen Co. figures released Wednesday.
It was the first test of how viewers would respond to "American Idol" without Abdul, who left over a salary despite. Her place is being filled first by celebrity panelists, including Victoria Beckham and Katy Perry, and later this season by new judge Ellen DeGeneres.
"American Idol" faces a bigger challenge next season: judge Simon Cowell announced this week he's leaving to start another talent show, "The X Factor," on Fox.
"Idol" airs a 90-minute episode tonight.
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