Can American Idol be saved? After losing a quarter of its audience last season, the Fox competition series is hitting the reset button for its 13th cycle, premiering in January. First up: a judging panel featuring Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. "Last season, we knew what could happen when the chemistry was bad," says new executive producer Per Blankens, who previously helmed the Swedish version of Idol. "So we decided to get three people who really could enjoy each other's company." The panel is getting along so well that they're even taking their lunch breaks together, something producers admit never happened last year. "Nobody's above the other," adds exec producer Trish Kinane. "There's none of that rivalry going on."
Along with the new judges, Blankens hopes to infuse a fresh energy into the show. "There was no need to really come up with one big new gimmick," Blankens says. "It's rather about looking at all the little details." More contestants will be shown during the auditions; there will be a new section at the start of Hollywood Week ("There's a bit of a shock element to it," Kinane teases); and the time between Hollywood Week and the live shows will be shortened so viewers can cast their votes sooner. The music selection and themes will also be overhauled, allowing contestants to pick more contemporary tracks. "That doesn't mean we're going to do Billboard Top 10 every week," Blankens says. "But if someone wants to sing a current song, they're going to at least have the choice."
When the live shows begin, audiences will have less of a wait to find out who's going home. "We're going to reduce some of the results shows in length because those were too long and padded, so we're going to redistribute that time and use it in different ways," says Kinane, who hints at a behind-the-scenes aspect: "These kids have a really extraordinary schedule — they're working 13 or more hours a day — so we're going to show some of that."
Blankens hopes the changes will reinterest viewers. "I truly believe that everybody in America has a special relationship with this show," he says. "We can't ignore the fact that it was the first and it's the only show that actually produces superstars. It's a big part of the American pop culture."