If the last season of "American Idol" proved to be an eyeball ping-pong experience while watching the animosity between judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey percolate, then the forthcoming season might come as a relief to the optical nerves.
The latest judging trio lineup — Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. — like to look at one another when speaking, as evident at the show's panel Monday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, poking fun and having some laughs in the process. A little good cheer is something the aging singing competition show could use.
"Idol" launches its 13th season Wednesday night at a time when its wrinkles are hard to cover up. Last season, which featured Urban, Minaj, and Carey as judges, hit a record low with its finale — seen by 14.3-million viewers, down 33% from the previous year and making it the first time one of its finales hasn't hit the 20-million mark since the show launched in 2002. While a guest on a N.Y. radio station, Carey said of the experience: "Honestly, I hated it."
The wear and tear of the show, or maybe the genre, is also evident in "Idol's" sister show, "The X Factor," which has struggled to find its footing since its 2011 debut. But Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly isn't ready to drop one just yet.
"I wish 'The Voice' would go away first," Reilly said of the rival, Emmy-winning NBC singing competition show, during the network's executive panel.
For Connick, who before joining this season as a judge had been part of the "Idol" family as a mentor, the outside competition is not something he spends much time thinking about.
"When I'm on vacation with my wife, I'm not wondering if the other couples are happier," the 46-year-old singer said.
Fox, instead, is hoping yet another makeover will add some sheen to its once-golden egg. It does so without "Idol's" longtime producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, as well as Mike Darnell, Fox's head of alternative programming — the show's biggest champion.
"What we've done is make a lot of small changes," said Executive Producer Trish Kinane. "We didn't want to do anything radical."
Among the tweaks:
— There will be a new element called "The Chamber." It will look at the contestants just after Ryan send them off to perform in front of the judges during the auditions. The contestants will collect themselves in a small room — "some people pray, some people sing, some people look under their arms to see if they're perspiring," Kinane said. "They're intimate moments that tell you a lot about the kids."
— The middle rounds will be condensed into one week, called Rush Week. During that time, former "Idol" Randy Jackson will reemerge. He'll conduct a two-day workshop ahead of the live shows where contestants examine their musical style and decide what look they want; different experts in the field will offer tips. "He's been through it for 12 years," Kinane said. "He's seen these kids come and go. He has a lot to offer."
— There will be a new round in Hollywood Week that Kinane desribes as a "fresh surprise."
— The producers are taking a new approach to the music theme this year. And for those tired of the same ol' songs, the producers have indicated that they have expanded the song lists. "There are many more contemporary songs in the lists," Kinane said.
Lopez, who returns as a judge after taking a year off, seems to like the changes her employer has made.
"With Steven [Tyler] and Randy was one thing ... I loved coming to work every day. This season is no different. I sit between two people who I respect and have a good time with. We all love music. That’s what is going to make it spark fresh and new again.
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