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Best bets: 'American Idol' belts its way back onto TV

Get ready for some bad singing, outrageous personalities, and in-between all that, possibly a new musical sensation. "American Idol" returns this week, with the first crazy audition shows. Also: Two more familiar faces are back, as TV viewers meet a young Carrie Bradshaw in the "Sex and the City" high-school prequel series, and Arnold Schwarzenegger muscles back into theaters with "The Last Stand."

Fox

"American Idol" returns this week.

MONDAY: 'The Carrie Diaries'
What would Carrie Bradshaw of "Sex and the City" have been like in high school? A new series, "The Carrie Diaries," tackles that question. AnnaSophia Robb, of "Soul Surfer" and other movies, will play a teenage Carrie in this CW prequel. In the premiere, Carrie, who has lost her mother, must deal with an overprotective dad and an internship at a Manhattan law firm. Do juniors in high school really get internships at Manhattan law firms? Anyway, we love the 1984 fashions in the preview. (Premieres Jan. 14, 8 p.m., the CW.)


WEDNESDAY: 'American Idol'
Ryan Seacrest brags that the upcoming season of "American Idol" will be its "best season yet." Yeah, seems like we've heard that before, but mixed in with the forgotten winners (where's Taylor Hicks today?), the show has produced enough real powerhouses (Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson) to make us tune in at least through the zany, chicken-suited auditioners to see if Seacrest can fulfill his promise. Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban are the judges. This year, the show tried to give small-town singers who might not be able to make it to a big city to audition a shot by taking a bus tour of smaller towns. And the new "Nominate an Idol" twist let family and friends secretly submit their favorite young singers for consideration. (Premieres Jan. 16, 8 p.m., FOX.)

FRIDAY: 'The Last Stand'
Arnold Schwarzenegger is done governing, folks, and he's back to the career for which we know him best -- acting. The Terminator stars in "The Last Stand" as a failed small-town sheriff who must step up when he learns a drug kingpin is zooming towards his border town. Somehow we have trouble picturing Arnold as a failed anything, and have only sympathy for the kingpin (played by Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega). Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass" co-stars. (Opens Jan. 18.) 

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