Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson
Are Randy Jackson's "dawg" days over?
Along with the addition of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, the other biggest change to American Idol's judging table has been the toughening up of the last original judge.
"It was a surprise," Idol producer Ken Warwick told TVGuide.com at Monday's PaleyFest panel. "Randy has actually come out of himself a lot. Last week, he was excellent in the critiques."
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Warwick, a producer on the competition since Season 1, said Jackson has also proved to be a stabilizing force in the face of this year's many changes. "He keeps it real. Since Tyler and J. Lo are new, "occasionally it's very easy to get a little bit lost," he said. "Randy brings it back and smack, this is what we think and this is where it is. He's great this year."
Jackson attributes his tougher judgments to the talent of the finalists. "Somebody great is going to go home every week because I think we got some really, really talented kids. We got to call it as we see it," he said. "You just have to be honest and give these kids really helpful critiques, be that good or bad."
Simon Cowell: American Idol is "a better show than last year"
Another new part of the show is in-house music mentor Jimmy Iovine, who, as many viewers first saw last week, plays a sizable role in bringing in big-name music producers to work with the contestants and offering guidance.
"He knows what makes a hit record. He knows the way it should be done to achieve that. He knows there are kids that are better at it than others," Warwick said. "As we go through the weeks, he's probably going to hone in on various kids that he knows can give him what he wants and be a little bit different too."
Meet Idol's top 13: Karen Rodriquez's celebrity fan, James Durbin's Glambert fatigue
Pointing to last week's performances from the top 13 finalists, Tyler says Iovine's knowledge will come in handy. "Once again, it boils down to a good song," he said. "The ones that got crippled by what they were doing up there, it wasn't because they were bad."
More highlights from American Idol's PaleyFest panel:
J. Lo's emotional breakdown over Chris Medina explained: "Real life isn't in her face as much as it is for the rest of us," Warwick said.
Lucky No. 40?: Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative entertainment, says Tyler was the 40th person producers met with for the judges panel. "It was love at first sight," Tyler said, although he later admitted eliminating contestants has been "hard on his heart."
James is using his fame for good: James Durbin, who suffers from Tourette's syndrome, says he has received many inspiring stories about the disease following his rise to stardom. "It's cool that I get to be like the spokesperson for it," he said. "It's affecting a wider variety of people now."
Paul is proud of his moves: Paul McDonald says he's been busting out the same moves for the last five years on tour so he's surprised about the reaction his dancing on the show has received. "I love it," he says. "Even if I'm not singing as good as I should be, I'm entertaining."
Karen is on Karen time: Asked who is always late, the nine finalists in attendance all unanimously agreed it's Karen Rodriguez. Jacob Lusk was singled out as the loudest in the house, while Thia Megia was named most shy.