"American Idol" showed no signs of faltering in its sixth-season premiere, with Tuesday's two-hour episode its second highest-rated telecast ever. "Idol" averaged a monster 37.3 million viewers and a

"American Idol" showed no signs of faltering in its sixth-season premiere, with Tuesday's two-hour episode its second highest-rated telecast ever.

"Idol" averaged a monster 37.3 million viewers and a 15.7 rating/36 share in the adults 18-49 demographic, according to preliminary data released today (Jan. 17) by Nielsen Media Research.

That was up 5% in viewers and 3% in adults 18-49 compared to last year's premiere, which in itself was no slouch (35.5 million, 15.3/34). But even more stunning, it was the second-best telecast for "American Idol" since it debuted in the summer of 2002. The top ratings performer was the May 21, 2003, telecast between Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard that averaged 38.1 million viewers and a 16.8/37.

It wasn't immediately clear, but it could have been the biggest premiere in the 20-year history of Fox Broadcasting.

On Tuesday night, "Idol" started strong with 31.1 million viewers and never looked back. It jumped to 37.1 million at 8:30 p.m., 39.7 million at 9 p.m. and then 41.5 million by 9:30 p.m. It topped out at an 18.0/40 -- 40% of the U.S. homes using television were tuned to "Idol" then -- which was the best ratings for a telecast so far this season and likely runner-up to only next month's Super Bowl.

For more on the premiere of "American Idol," visit the Billboard's Jaded Insider blog.