According to Variety, the Fox phenomenon American Idol opened to huge numbers Tuesday night, with the two-hour premiere ranking as the second highest-rated episode of the series to date -- and easily topping any primetime telecast this season.

According to preliminary Nielsen estimates, the opening night of auditions on American Idol averaged a 15.7 rating/36 share in adults 18-49 and 37.3 million viewers overall, up 3% in the demo and 5% in total audience vs. one year ago.

The only other American Idol telecast to rate higher was the final hour of the May 2003 season finale between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken.

American Idol has been television's No. 1 program for each of the past three seasons, becoming the first series to average more than 30 million viewers since NBC's Seinfeld ended in 1998.