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American Idol Kicks off 9th Season with Big Changes Ahead

Fox's ratings behemoth starts its 9th season tomorrow night, on the heels of a big announcement from host Simon Cowell. At Fox's presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour, Cowell announced this would be his last year hosting American Idol. This doesn't mean an end to his top billing on Fox; he's bringing his British talent show "The X Factor" to the US in 2011.

This announcement resolves weeks of speculations, but it raises a whole slew of new questions about "Idol's" future.

Cowell's departure will be a huge change for the show — many would argue that his snarky commentary drives the entire show. And of course this announcement comes on top of Paula Abdul's departure, which she announced in a Tweet in August. Popular talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is replacing Abdul — but no matter how popular Ellen is, so many changes could throw off Idol's formula for success.

So what does this mean for Cowell's last season?

Idol is expected to live up to its track record and have another huge year — it's been the highest-rated regularly scheduled show for the past four seasons. And as we near the Winter Olympics on NBC it's worth noting that "Idol" is one of the few shows that won more viewers than the 2006 winter Olympics. But this year, on top of the new judge, the show is tweaking its format, putting 24 contestants instead of 36 in the semi-final round, and getting rid of the 'wild card pick.' And since the show's ratings peaked with Season 5 in 2006, it's worth wondering whether it can keep up its ratings dominance.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.