The new judging panel isn't the only change coming to American Idol this season.
When the reality singing competition show returns for its 13th season Wednesday (8/7c, Fox), the basic formula will stay the same, but the show will be revitalized in key ways. "We've made a lot of small changes, nothing radical," Idol executive producer Trish Kinane said at Fox's Television Critics Association winter previews on Monday. "They're freshening changes that really add up to a fresh feel."
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Here's a breakdown of what changes we can expect:
Less conflict: Even before the first question is asked, host Ryan Seacrest tells the critics, "They're fun. They're getting along. It's going to be great." Of course he's referring to the new panel of returning judges Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez and newbie judge Harry Connick, Jr., who had previously acted as a guest mentor. Throughout the panel, Connick, Jr. praised his colleagues for their work ethics and tenacity. It's clear that this panel does not lack respect for each other. "You want to see people having fun and having a laugh. It shines... it will be spectacular when we get to go live," Seacrest said.
Camp Dawg? Randy Jackson may have left the judges' table, but the producers are building up a whole different part of the show for him to highlight his mentoring. Between Hollywood Week and the live shows, "Randy is going to be hosting a two-day workshop," Kinane explained. During that time, the singers will go through extra education to work on song selection, their images and styles as artists, how to deal with emotional pressure and more aspects of performance. "Randy is very much putting this together, and that will carry through to the live shows," Kinane said.
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Better songs: The young Idol wannabes will have a better chance of singing songs they actually connect with this time around. "We have a new approach to the music themes... where the kids can sing sings that they really relate to," new executive producer Per Blankens said. That means less Burt Bacharach and BeeGees! Idol has also expanded its song list too include more contemporary songs.
The Chamber: Adding a little more insight into the singers themselves is The Chamber, which sounds a lot more ominous than it is. It's an enclosed vestibule singers go into before their first auditions where they can center themselves before taking the plunge. "Some people pray, some people sing, some people look under their arms to see if they're perspiring," Kinane said.
Rush Week: Idol producers apparently listened to viewer feedback about losing patience with the drawn-out middle rounds and are condensing it all into one week, dubbed Rush Week. Over the course of three nights (Feb. 18-20), the Top 15 female contestants will learn their fates, then the Top 15 male contestants, and finally we'll meet the Top 3 finalists in the first live results show in Los Angeles.
Are you excited about the new season of American Idol?
American Idol premieres on Wednesday and Thursday at 8/7c on Fox.