American Idol Returns Tonight

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idol10a 547x336 American Idol Returns Tonight

“American Idol” fans are getting ready to jump into a Season 10 with a lot of unknowns. “Idol” returns to Fox tonight with new faces in the judging panel and a lot more. And the biggest change of all: “Idol” creator and curmudgeon Simon Cowell has left to work on a new show, “X Factor” (also for Fox). 

(Thanks to MSN)
Fox has a lot at stake. “Idol” is still solidly the No. 1 rated TV show in the country (and has been for six straight years — a record for any show, scripted or not). But last season’s finale ratings, while enormous with more than 24 million viewers,  marked the lowest number since the show debuted in 2002. Fox wants to make a meteoric star again out of its flagship show–and we think it can.

Let’s run down this season’s coming changes, factual or rumored, and see what the likely impact might be:

1. No Simon: OK, this is a big one. Cowell’s blistering appraisals of contestants grew to be one of the show’s big appeals. And when he doled out one of his rare (and heartfelt) compliments, well, that really meant something. Whether you loved him or loved to hate him, he was a reason to tune in. But remember that TV cast changes are common, and that Cowell was really playing a role. (And even his legendary banter with host Ryan Seacrest was starting to feel phoned in, wasn’t it?) Randy Jackson has become more thoughtful and blunt when he needs to be, so he may well rise to the role of “AI” elder statesman.

The Verdict: cautiously optimistic. Give it a few shows to see how the new judges’ personalities shake out.

2. New judges: Which brings us to the panel of shiny new and famous faces. Jackson is back, Dawg. And gone are the previous new (and wobbly) judges, Ellen DeGeneres (who’s great at nearly everything, but not at being an “Idol” judge) as well as Kara DioGuardi. In their place: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Since both still have actual musical careers, their addition could bring much-needed credibility to the judging. (It takes one to know one, right?) Though Lopez, Tyler, Seacrest and Jackson recently gushed to Entertainment Weekly that they are “more collaborative” and are “more on the same page” than any previous panel of “Idol” judges, we hope there’s still room for strong opinions and sparks. Lopez does not exactly suffer fools gladly (let’s hope no contestant tries to make actual eye contact with her).

The Verdict: Walk this way!

3. No more boy-girl parity: “American Idol” had been committed to bringing an equal number of men and women to the semifinals (and beyond), but executive producer Ken Warwick says that’s gone, and that talent alone will determine who moves to the next rounds.

The Verdict: Let the sing-off begin.

4. New semifinal round: The rumor is that the show will begin with 60 “I’m going to Hollywood!” contestants who are flown to Vegas to cover Beatles songs; from that group comes a group of 40, and then a semifinalist group of 20. Then viewers will choose the finalists. The show’s producers have been mum about whether there will be 10, 12, or even 15 finalists, so there could be even more shake-ups in the pacing, the voting and the results.

The Verdict: Neutral. As long as the pacing stays quick and seamless, we’re in.

5. New kingmaker: With Cowell out, longtime music producer Jimmy Iovine (of Interscope Geffen A&M Records) has taken over the role of behind-the-scenes mentor and magic-maker. Iovine is nothing if not connected in the music biz, so the producers, arrangers and session musicians he selects may be more commercial, more cutting-edge than in the past or both.

The Verdict: Play it!

6. Lack of good contestants: Well, it’s true that last season’s batch didn’t really grab our attention. (Show of hands: Who’s currently listening to Crystal Bowersox? Lee DeWyze?) “The biggest thing that ‘Idol’ needs to do this year,” Richard Rushfield, author of the coming book “‘American Idol': The Untold Story,” told The Los Angeles Times, “is produce a major recording star. They haven’t done that in a lot of years, and it’s sort of the premise of the show.” It’s been ages since we’ve seen a Chris Daughtry or a Carrie Underwood. And the biggest singing sensation to be plucked out of nowhere and catapulted to stardom in the country is Ted Williams, the homeless man with a voice of gold. “Idol” has to get some strong singers back into the national consciousness, stat.

The Verdict: The only way to tell if the new judges’ enthusiasm for what they heard in the auditions is authentic is to tune in. So we will — but we’ve spent time in Missouri, so, Steven, J.Lo and crew: You’ll have to show us.

7. More competition: Cowell’s “X Factor,” which debuts in September on Fox, is just one direct competition to “American Idol.” Folksy-country star Jewel and ex-“Idol” judge DioGuardi are launching a similar show, “Platinum Hit,” for Bravo, home of “Top Chef,” “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover” and the original “Project Runway.” It’s scheduled to air sometime this summer. But having a lot of singing-competition shows is nothing new (“Nashville Star,” “America’s Got Talent,” et al). Notice that none of these shows is foolish enough to overlap with the “Idol” juggernaut.

The Verdict: May the best show win. But we’re betting on, and grooving to, “Idol.”

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