New American Idol Crew Meets The Press: 'We're Taking It Up a Notch'

Steven Tyler perhaps sums it up best when assaying the upcoming 10th – and rather different – season of America’s most watched TV program: “Idol is taking it up a notch. No more, no less.”

Among the changes American Idol has undergone since staging its underwhelming ninth season: Following much falderah, Simon Cowell has moved on, to shepherd the U.S. version of The X Factor (premiering this fall on Fox); both Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres also have vacated the dais; Nigel Lythgoe is back as an executive producer; and contestants will face new performance challenges throughout their journey.

Meeting the press for a 40-minute panel discussion at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Tuesday, here is what the judges and producers had to say about the “new”  Idol.

THE JUDGES | “We’ve got the rock legend, we’ve got the triple threat…. We’re gonna be good,” last judge standing Randy Jackson said with a nod to newcomers Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Speaking of “Jenny from the Block,” Randy says she’s at her judging best when her urban roots come bursting forth: “I like that boogey-down Bronx girl!”

J.Lo said that she has been a fan of past Idol seasons, and fancied herself a “backseat judge” while watching at home. Now that she’s doing it for real, “It’s more fun that I thought it’d be,” she raved. (Tyler shared an anecdote about catching Lopez’s The Back-Up Plan during a plane flight, at which point he decided, “I wanna sit next to that!” And now he shall, lucky guy.)

Overseeing this transitional phase is host Ryan Seacrest, who very much looks forward to that first live show (airing January 19). “I’m inspired by the new life here, and I love it. Simon and I had a banter… but this is a whole new dynamic. It will hopefully be a bit of a circus.”

THE JUDGING | Lopez balked at delineating just how she, Tyler and Jackson will dissect each singer, saying, “You have to tune in to get the full scope [of that]. But we are very honest and in the moment with what we have to do.”

As for the question that refuses to die – “Who will fill Simon Cowell’s role as the “mean” one?” — Randy maintained that as needed, “You hear that from all three of us. If [a performance] is terrible, it’s terrible.” Nigel added, “They bring more of a critique [than Simon], instead of, ‘Pack your suitcase and go home.'”

As Lopez explained, “We bring a different perspective… we just do. We’re artists. We’ve been up there, we’ve been through the ranks.”

THE JUDGED | Confirming that which is hinted at by a 28-minute screener shown to the press, the talent for Season 10 is, at the very least, incredibly promising. “Some of them… are absolutely fabulous,” said EP Ken Warwick. “That’s great for us, and hopefully great for the public.” Added Randy, “Trust me, we’ve got some heat this season, and better talent than we’ve had in other seasons.”

THE RUMORS | Lythgoe set the record straight on talk that there will be a “Vegas round” per se this season. Although the contestants did make a road trip to Sin City, it was strictly to get a bit of Love — as in the Beatles-themed revue playing at The Mirage. From there, they were presented with the challenge of learning a Fab Four song overnight. That excursion “just happened to be in Vegas,” said EP Cecile Frot-Coutaz.

The purpose of such challenges (as well as taking viewers inside a communal “Idol House” where hopefuls will cohabitate) is to “have viewers know contestants better by the time we hit that big stage,” said Frot-Coutaz.

Lythgoe tackled the topic of wannabes being able to croon their own tunes, hedging that such instances will be limited. “We’ve kind of always discouraged it, because when a kid sings a song that no one’s heard of before, we suspect it’s not going to be very good,” he pointed out.

YOUR NEXT AMERICAN IDOL | Addressing the age-old knock that Idol in recent years has only christened “white guys with guitars,” Frot-Coutaz threw that one back into the public’s lap: “Our job, collectively, is to serve up the best and most diverse group of 12 kids, and then the audience votes for who they like best,” she said. “That’s the show.”

Lopez says that what it all will come down to is, “Who can make it under the pressure of the show?” And her advice to the singers? “You’ve got to make our hair stand up. Every time you get up there, you’ve got to leave our jaw dropped.”

Are you ready for the new season of Idol?