"American Idol" is back and bigger than ever.

The FOX TV talent contest's season premiere was the most-watched in its six-year history, drawing an estimated 37.3 million viewers Tuesday, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen Media Research.

That represents a 5 percent increase over last year's record premiere audience of 35.5 million, qualifying it as the best debut ever for FOX, the network said. Final ratings will be released next week.

• Get all the buzz about the sixth season in FOXNews.com's 'American Idol' Center.

"`American Idol' continues to make entertainment history," Simon Fuller, the series' creator and executive producer, said in a statement Wednesday. "These amazing numbers from our season-six premiere defy all reasonable expectations."

The top-rated show, which also airs Wednesday, is breaking television's laws of gravity that bring declining viewership for aging shows.

It's gotten a boost from its high-profile alumni, including hot recording stars Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood and "Dreamgirls" star and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Hudson.

"American Idol," which gives viewers the chance to pick the finalists and winner, began as usual with scenes from nationwide auditions. The early rounds feature both promising singers and those who serve as targets for acerbic judge Simon Cowell before they're booted out.

'American Idol' is broadcast on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.

Check out FOXNews.com's 'American Idol' Center for complete coverage.