'American Idol' Auditions Kick Off in Nashville Without Simon Cowell
"American Idol" judges Ellen DeGeneres, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell. FOX

"American Idol" producers on Monday lowered the age limit for contestants to 15, but there was still no word on a new judge to replace Simon Cowell as auditions were announced for next month.

Fox television said auditions for season 10 would be held in six U.S. cities, beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, July 17. Producers of the TV singing contest, whose ratings have slid, said the minimum age this season would be 15 instead of 16.

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"A lot of young, talented people are now seeking careers and representation before they turn 16," said Cecile Frot-Coutaz, executive producer of "American Idol".

"Lowering the age limit allows us to tap into this talent pool," she said in a statement.

A month after Cowell bid farewell to "Idol" in the show's May finale, there has been no word on who will replace him.

But auditions before the panel of judges are not due to start until September, after thousands of wannabe singers in cities around the nation will have been eliminated by producers in the mass July and August try-outs.

The schedule allows more time for producers to name a new judge and have him or her in place by September.

Last year, "Idol" producers enlisted celebrities ranging from country singer Shania Twain to actor Neil Patrick Harris to sit on the judges' panel, after the abrupt departure of Paula Abdul.

Ellen DeGeneres did not take up her new role as a judge until early 2010, when singers who made it past the first auditions performed in Hollywood. That move indicated a similar hiatus is possible this year for Cowell's replacement.

"American Idol" has been the most-watched TV show in the United States for the past seven years despite a 9 percent ratings drop in 2010 to an average 23.9 million, from a 2006 high of 30.8 million.

Cowell, 50, left to launch a U.S. version of his British "X-Factor" talent show on Fox in the fall of 2011.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)

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