American Idol Season 13 Adds 'Hollywood or Home' Twist, More New Songs, Broader Themes

American Idol Season 13 ChangesAmerican Idol wannabes who score coveted Golden Tickets at their auditions will face an additional hurdle in Season 13 of Fox’s veteran singing competition.

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In a new round called “Hollywood or Home” and airing on Feb. 5 — three weeks after the show’s Jan. 15 premiere date — before the hopefuls even have a chance to unpack their bags, some of them will be called in front of the judges to perform solo numbers. What they accomplish there (or don’t) will determine whether they continue on to Hell Week or go directly to the airport with a parting gift of shattered dreams.

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Idol held court Monday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Here are some highlights:

* Explaining her decision to return as a judge, Jennifer Lopez said her original intention during her first tour with the show was just to stay for a single season. “When they asked me back this year, the decision was just as difficult because of the time frame,” given Lopez’s other projects including producing ABC Family’s The Fosters. “But somehow we were able to [work out scheduling].” She added: “I love coming to work every day which is why I’m back. … I am lucky enough to sit between two people [Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr.] who I respect and have a good time with.”

* Detailing ex-judge Randy Jackson‘s new role as mentor, executive producer Trish Kinane previewed a two-day, yet-to-be-named Idol element that is a “sort of Randy Jackson workshop” “where the kids go through a series of education, where they can discover things about themselves or we can teach them things.”

* All told, Kinane promised “lots of freshening changes,” from start to finish. “We examined how we find that talent. We took our talent search out [via a bus tour]…. We have a new element called The Chamber… where they’re on their own [with Ryan] to collect themselves [before seeing the judges]…. We condensed the middle rounds into one week and we’re calling it Rush Week,” a revamped semifinals in which viewer votes will narrow the field of 15 women and 15 men down to 13 finalists. That said, however, “It’s still absolutely American Idol.”

* New judge Harry Connick Jr. may prove to be the truth-teller Idol and its ilk desperately need. He related tales of how, as a viewer of the series, he is prone to shout at his TV, “That kid can’t sing!” And, in perhaps more diplomatic terms, he aims to do the same as a legit panelist. “If somebody can’t sing,” he said, “they need to go home.”

* In news that will make TVLine’s Michael Slezak happy, Kinane confirmed that Idol has “expanded the song list” from which singers can choose, offering up “many more contemporary songs.” But with that comes a modification to the show’s hallmark theme weeks. “We’re going to work differently with the themes,” said EP Per Blankens. “We have a new approach … where we try to get songs they can really relate to and pick from.”