By "American Idol" (search) opened to a huge audience of 33.6 million viewers Tuesday night — a day after FOX entertainment chief Gail Berman predicted a lower viewer turnout this season.

"Never have I been happier to be wrong," Berman said yesterday. "When you get a phenomenon like this, and hold it back — and pay the price for holding it back — to have it explode is really remarkable."

Tuesday's fourth-season "Idol" opener was up nearly 5 million viewers over last year's season premiere.

It was also the season's top-rated show in total viewers, beating a Nov. 18 episode of "CSI" (search), which pulled in 31.5 million viewers. That episode of "CSI" marked the show's 100th episode.

The "AI" opener outdrew the other five competing networks combined from 8 to 10 p.m.

Berman attributed the show's strong opening-night performance to several factors.

"First of all, we showed restraint with this show and created a two-hour event, and people were very interested in that," she said, alluding to FOX not airing the show until midseason.

"And I think we had one of the best promotional campaigns we've ever had. I know it's going to sound corny, but I think 'Idol' is the people's program," she said.

"The public has a love affair with this show that transcends TV logic."

"Idol" has a history of starting slowly and building viewers as the initial group of contestants is narrowed down — which is why the strong numbers for Tuesday's season premiere were surprising.

"We will take a dip, we always do, and then we'll start to build again," Berman said. "In fact, it's the pattern of the show and we're pretty used to that pattern by now.

"We're not used to this, though," she said, alluding to Tuesday's ratings.

"Idol" has added several format changes this season, including adding more male contestants to the mix.

Ryan Seacrest (search) returns as host with judges Simon Cowell (search), Randy Jackson (search) and Paula Abdul (search).