American Idol American Idol

A new judges panel isn't the only change coming to American Idol this season.

Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe tells that the finalists will face new challenges, including contests to make the best music video, to promote themselves, and to work with a band and dancers for an awards show-style performance.

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The producers have also eliminated the round that shrinks the contestants from a group of 24 to 12, instead opting to just go straight to the top 12.

"I didn't think [the top 24] were very good, I was bored with them by the time they got there," Lythgoe says of previous seasons.

It's unclear if this means the judges will choose the top 12 and what will replace the episodes that usually cover the early voting rounds. Both Fox and the producers declined to elaborate.

As previously announced, theme weeks will focus on decades rather than a particular artist. Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, will act as an in-house mentor. Taken together, the changes seem to reiterate the producers' desires to create an artist, rather than just another winner.

Lythgoe says they've been seeing an even wider range of talent than in previous seasons, including many country, indie and jazz singers. (Incidentally, the applicant pool has grown since 15-year-olds are now eligible.) Because of the high volume of contestants, more contenders are being sent through to Hollywood, notes Lythgoe.

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Lythgoe says that judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are taking their new jobs seriously. "They both listen intently, and don't make glib remarks," he says. "They give honest critiques."

In Simon Cowell's absence, Randy Jackson has risen to the occasion. "Randy is pulling his weight," Lythgoe says. "He really has stepped up. He's essentially come out of himself. He's enjoying being in that position."

American Idol returns in January on Fox.