It's been seven long months since the second season of ''American Idol'' came to a close, but fret not, dawgs: ''Idol'''s idle is nearly over. An international version of the competition (dubbed, not surprisingly, ''World Idol'') will air on two nights -- Christmas and New Year's Day -- while the third season of ''American Idol'' kicks off Jan. 19. So kick back, put on some Clay Aiken (if you must), and check out the ghosts of ''Idol'' future.
WORLD PARTY Besides opening presents and guzzling eggnog, there's no better way to celebrate Christmas than listening to South Africa's Heinz Winckler and Poland's Alicja Janosz. Along with Kelly Clarkson, they're among the 11 contestants from 11 countries who will vie for the title of ''World Idol.'' Viewers from each nation will vote for the winners, to be announced Jan. 1 -- but America's population advantage over, say, Norway, won't count. ''We balanced it out,'' explains producer Ken Warwick. ''The winner of the vote in each nation will get 12 points, while the second-place winner gets 10.''
A judge from each country will take part, and for the occasion, Simon Cowell will be an honorary American, despite first appearing on the British ''Pop Idol.'' The U.K. will be represented by Cowell's fellow ''Pop Idol'' judge Pete Waterman, whose producing credits include Kylie Minogue and British boy band Westlife (and who has been pegged by some British fans as even meaner than Mr. Cowell). ''There's great chemistry between Pete and Simon,'' says Warwick. Which hopefully means they hate each other.
Cowell, Waterman, and their cohorts will unleash their ire on contestants who also include Britain's Will Young (who, despite popping up on ''American Idol,'' has yet to gain even the slightest following here), Canada's Ryan Malcolm, and Lebanon's Diana Karazon. The hosts will be singers and TV personalities Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, known in the U.K. as ''Ant & Dec.'' Here, they're known simply as: ''Who?''