"American Idol" kicks off its tenth season on January 19, and according to the show's retooled cast and crew, it's likely to be a cuddlier one.
"I think they bring more of a critique rather than just, 'Pack your suitcase, go home,'" "Idol's" returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told reporters at FOX's portion of the Television Critics Association Winter 2011 Session on Wednesday in Pasadena, Calif.
Jennifer Lopez, one of two new judges this season, alongside Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler, hinted she's not a harsh judge, but rather a nurturing and supportive one.
"We bring a different perspective... We just do," Jennifer said. "We're artists, we've been up there, we've auditioned... There's nothing like having that discussion with another artist to help you grow."
One of "Idol's" biggest changes this season will be finding a voice without Simon Cowell, a judge whose opinion from the beginning became influential and a talking point across America. Without the Brit, who moved on to launch his own reality competition, "X Factor," premiering this fall on FOX, original judge Randy Jackson said "Idol" most definitely goes on.
"We definitely love him and we'll miss him and I think he's a great addition to the show but what we've added now, with these two superstars -- I mean, I think the show's gonna go on and have huge success," Randy said. "You're gonna see a lot of interesting things because I see these kids -- they walk in and they see Jennifer and Steven and they're like, 'Oh my God!' We've got like the rock legend, we got the triple threat, so I think we're gonna be good, man."
With Simon out, it has meant Randy has stepped up in his role as the lone returning judge, and he said fans are going to find a new version of the Dawg Pound leader.
"You'll see a little more [of an] assertive dawg... a little more hair on the dawg as well," he laughed, rubbing his noggin. "Fewer 'Yo's,' maybe more, 'No's.' ... It's just a different kind of panel. My role has definitely changed... you're gonna like this a lot. I guarantee that. You're gonna say, 'Dawg! You were right!'"
Among the changes coming to "Idol" this season are a trip in the early rounds to Las Vegas and a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil's "The Beatles LOVE" show, which Nigel said wasn't about the city, but rather, about the production with which they wanted to become involved. In addition, Jimmy Iovine joins the cast as an in-house mentor, bringing the power of Universal Records to the show.
The record executive said that he and his crew have "already started working" with the semi-final contestants, which currently number 40, pairing them up with four to five producers to help them cut tracks. He added that his role will be to help the contenders improve their performances each week, adding in the kind of record label help he felt was lacking on the show in past seasons.
The addition of the record company and producer side from the start of the contest is something the "Idol" brass hopes will help their contenders and winners more than they've been helped in past seasons.
When asked about why some of the more recent "Idols" haven't been as successful as some of the early "Idol" winners, show host Ryan Seacrest said it had to do with the material.
"This is the greatest spring board out there, but you still have to find a record that hits the charts," he said.
Randy thinks the new crop of contenders is likely to do that.
"Trust me, we got some heat this season and I think better talent than we've had," he said when asked about the talent pool for Season 10. "We got some hot kids."
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