PASADENA, Calif. — The most intriguing part of the 10th season of “American Idol” will have nothing to do with which young singer is the next Lee DeWyze or William Hung.
This time, it’s all about the judges.
With the departure of Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres, producers need new star judges Jennifer Lopez and Stephen Tyler to hold on to the audience. And if you think Cowell was brutal with his opinions, just wait and see how viewers will act if Ty-Lo doesn’t deliver.
You’ll get your first look at the new judges when the two-night season premiere kicks off with auditions from New York/New Jersey and in New Orleans on Thursday. Auditions will continue for three weeks on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Randy Jackson, the last remaining judge from the original panel, says this group won’t break down into the mean one, the hip one and the nice one.
“I think I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about people saying who is gonna be the tough one, who is really going to tell these kids where it is, where it’s not, whatever, or the mean one or whatever,” Jackson says. “You still hear all of that from all three of us. We still honestly give them a full read. If it’s terrible, it’s terrible.”
Jackson doesn’t plan on being more Cowell-like in his evaluations, but he promises his comments will have a little more bite than in past years.
Tyler’s role may end up leaning more toward mentoring. Although the Aerosmith front man’s not 100 percent certain of why he agreed to be a judge, he knows what he wants to do now that he’s got one of the seats. He wants to pass on the knowledge he’s collected during 40 years of work in the music world.
“I started in ’64, ’65, and moving up the ranks and finally figuring out what it is. These kids have it so much harder. They haven’t had the good graces to play clubs and get beaten down that way,” Tyler says. “So they have their mom and dad telling them they’re great, and they feel entitled because they watch the show, and they gotta come up and really give it up, and it’s just excruciating.”
Lopez brings one big advantage: She was a fan of the Fox competition series long before she joined the ranks. If there is a nice judge to emerge, it looks like it’ll be Lopez.
“We have a lot of great talent, boys and girls, men and women. It’s tough. It’s so funny. I already feel, like, when you start talking about the contestants and stuff, I feel so emotionally attached to all of them already,” Lopez say. “I hate seeing any of them go. I’ve already shed a couple of tears. It’s a process, but I think what we have found and why we get so involved is because we see so much potential and we see so much great talent and so much artistry there.”
Lopez says it reminds her of herself years ago.
“You can identify, and you want to just guide them in the right direction,” she says.
The loss of Cowell will affect one member of “The American Idol” team more than others, host Ryan Seacrest. He and Cowell became their own three-ring circus of barbs during the first nine seasons.
Seacrest’s not shedding any tears.
“I’m inspired by the new life here, and I love it. Simon and I had our banter, and people knew us for that, but this is a whole different dynamic. And I think that it will be a lot of fun and very funny as well. I think you’ll be entertained by it,” Seacrest says.
And while there are two new judges who will determine the fate of young singers, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe points out one thing hasn’t changed.
“At end of the day, it is America that decides, and I would have thought over the amount of years that we’ve done it, America has eventually, whether they’ve made mistakes along the way, always come up with the right winner,” Lythgoe says. “Whether it was a good winner that year or not, America’s normally always got it right.”