'American Idol' for Political Nerds Is Coming to DC This Week

Like reality TV but, with presidency in play, the stakes are a whole lot higher.

— -- OK, political junkies, it’s time to switch on C-SPAN: There’s a three-day-long reality show just getting started outside Washington, D.C., today.

The Contestants

Like "Idol," CPAC is essentially a big casting call, a chance for the Republican base to preview candidates’ stump speeches before the 2016 cycle officially begins.

The Judges

Remember watching "Idol" contestants squirm under Simon Cowell’s skeptical eye?

That’s basically the feeling you’ll get when you see Fox News’ Sean Hannity question former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about common core curriculum standards onstage at CPAC.

Bush, whose recent speeches in Chicago and Detroit fell decidedly flat, has decided to forgo the formal speech entirely, opting instead for a 20-minute Q&A. He’s excelled at the format in the past -- but pundits are waiting to see how he’ll do when confronted with controversial issues, like his support for common core and immigration, at CPAC.

And The Winner Is ...

You can’t text in your vote (the ACU isn’t quite as hip as Ryan Seacrest) but just as at "Idol," audience participation is encouraged at CPAC.

The grand finale is the straw poll reveal Saturday evening -- the results of an informal ballot asking attendees who they’d vote for to be president.

The straw poll doesn’t necessarily mean much -- only a few CPAC straw poll winners have gone on to become the party’s nominee -- but it can help demonstrate momentum and attract bundlers, crucial in the early stages of campaign fundraising.

Spoiler: The straw poll winner doesn’t sing a victory song -- though we’d like to hear Chris Christie belt out a Springsteen tune or two. ...