Auditions for next month's new season have been either great or awful, the host tells PEOPLE

By Jon Warech and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 19, 2006 08:20 AM

With less than one month to go before the new season of American Idol kicks off, Ryan Seacrest tells PEOPLE that there will be some eye-openers early on.

“I was just on the phone with Simon, and we were talking about the auditions,” Seacrest said at the 10th annual Best Buddies International Miami Gala. “We taped the auditions a couple of weeks ago.”

And? “We didn’t think we would go out and see the extremes that we saw. There is the extremely naive and the extremely good and not a lot in between, which is good,” he said.

Idol will resurface on FOX with two-hour editions on Jan. 16 and 17.

Besides the extremes that Seacrest promises for the outset of the season, the show’s executive producer, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, also said that at mid-season a big surprise event would also be revealed.

“Something we’re working on is a big-event show, sometime in the middle of the season, something that will blow America away,” she tells New York’s Daily News. Frot-Coutaz would not reveal more.

Of the auditions, which began in August, she said: “There’s some great talent out there. But there’s also some people who are delusional about their talent, too. That’s the beauty of an open call – everybody comes. Everybody thinks they’ve got a great voice.”

When it comes to his show’s graduates, Seacrest – who’ll also be hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve bash on ABC in Times Square – told PEOPLE that he thinks they’re top-notch.

“Look at Jennifer Hudson,” he says of the Dreamgirls breakaway star, who was dismissed early in her Idol attempt. “I think this is an unexpected path of success for her. She’s a great singer, but who would have thought she would get the Oscar buzz so quickly after being on Idol?”

As for observations from both fans and critics that Hudson is overshadowing the top-billed Beyonce Knowles in the movie musical, Seacrest has a theory. “I think with Jennifer there was no expectation, so when she comes on and she steals a scene it really makes an impact.”