"American Idol" has lost its mean streak. The hit Fox television show once exalted equally for its sensational singing and cutting criticism is embracing a softer approach this year, following the exit of top villain Simon Cowell and the addition of new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
The famous performers said they are taking turns nurturing this year's contestants, some as young as 15 for the first time ever, and providing tough feedback. "We all want them to do well because we actually believe in them," said music producer Randy Jackson, the lone remaining original "Idol" judge.
The change is part of an ongoing makeover of the popular singing contest as the former mega-hit enters its 10th season with sagging ratings. Hoping to borrow some of Sin City's showbiz sparkle, Jackson, Tyler and Lopez moved to Las Vegas for the week to narrow down a group of 60 finalists to 40 favorites.
The episode is being filmed at the LOVE theater, a Beatles tribute hall at the Mirage hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This is the first time "American Idol" has taken its so-called Hollywood round on the road. During the episode, contestants will sing Beatles' tunes on stage with a live band.
"You really get to see who are the performers and who is not going to be the performers," said Lopez, clad in a silver jumper that barely covered her tanned thighs, at a news conference outside the theater Tuesday.
"American Idol's" ratings dropped 8 percent last season. As part of its makeover, results episodes will move from Wednesday to Thursday nights when the show returns in January; Tuesday performances will move to Wednesdays.
Judge Paula Abdul left in 2009, and Cowell didn't return this year. The new season is expected to play down its usual celebrity guest appearances and focus on the drama of the competition. But there will be some star moments. Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine and celebrity producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins have signed up to work with the would-be stars. "I've been calling it 'Season 10, the Remix,'" Jackson said.
Fans can also expect contestants to cover Tyler and Lopez' greatest hits. Tyler is the frontman for rock band Aerosmith, while Lopez is a movie star also known for her dance tunes. The anticipation of singing before two of music's most successful acts has helped motivate the contestants, according to Jackson, who says, "They don't want to let these guys down."
"I don't think that kind of emotion existed previously in the show," Lopez added.
The Las Vegas showcase provided a hint of the showboating and chutzpah fans can expect to see this season. Tyler, dressed in bedazzled jeans, poked fun of host Ryan Seacrest's cologne during the brief press event, while the others took turns talking over each other as they praised the contestants. Lopez said the female singers were outdoing their male counterparts and Jackson called a handful of 15-year-old performers impressive.
Seacrest said the new judges easily fit in with him and Jackson given their previous interactions in the entertainment business. "We all know each other from work," he said. "It's not like it's the first day on the job."