January 29, 2007 12:00 PM

FOX (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

BY TOM GLIATTO

REALITY

Given that more votes were cast for the last American Idol finale than for George Bush in 2004, it’s now a civic duty to watch the show’s new, sixth season responsibly. (Hey, no jumping on the sofa!) In a few weeks, we’ll be done with the gaudy, hysterical coast-to-coast tryouts and down to the final 24. Here are my Idol tips to clip for your handy reference.

1. Don’t get caught up in the singers’ backstories. I was surprised last season when a woman told me that Taylor Hicks ought to win because of his tough life, whereas Katharine McPhee had grown up in privilege. As we learned post-season, though, the girl had suffered from bulimia. You can live in a log cabin and walk five miles through the snow for an audition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. That does not make you an Idol.

2. Keep an eye on Paula Abdul. She has stronger populist instincts than fellow judges Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. She leaps with the enthusiasm of a Lakers Girl and weeps like a miraculous saint’s statue. I trust her. I love her.

3. And ask yourself: Is there a Jennifer Hudson somewhere, a genuine Dreamgirl whose talent might be overshadowed by all this hoopla? Also: What look will Clay Aiken go for this time when he makes a guest appearance? Last season he looked like the ghost of Spandau Ballet.

Remember, America: This is your Idol. Thank you.

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