All shows go through changes from season to season. Some do it for contractual reasons, be it because of talent or due to production or other considerations. But most do it to maintain a certain timeliness and -- to use a much over-used term -- "relevance" with the show's material. With this bent also comes the added urge at renewal, the move to keep a show "fresh" in the eyes of its loyal viewers while at the same time attracting new viewers. On the eve of its twelfth season, "American Idol" looks as if it has gone through a major peripheral overhaul, not to mention a near total facelift. Nigel Lythgoe, on hand as an executive producer for his tenth season, outlined the various changes "Idol" would present in the coming season.
Speaking at a conference call last week (relayed via Brian Mansfield at USA Today's "Idol Chatter"), Lythgoe noted that the changes to "Idol" began during the audition process. Pointing out that the show had always went to the cities for auditioning "en masse," he noted that there had been a few changes in that regard. The biggest change was the Small Town Bus Tour, which hit ten out-of-the-way small cities/big towns like . In addition to the big city mass auditions and the online auditions (which have been in place since Season 10), there was a second avenue to "American Idol" by auditioning online. Friends and family could present an audition tape for someone they thought worthy. Those chosen via this process were surprised and filmed by Judge Randy Jackson and got to go straight to the judges auditions.
There will be changes during Hollywood Week and Vegas Week as well. Lythgoe said that they had decided to split the boys and girls into two separate groups. This leads to the Top 10.
That's correct. Straight to the Top 10. "I've never liked a Top 11 or a Top 12 or a Top 13," the producer said. "It was always created in order to fill the transmission times Fox wanted. We've never found a way to do it with everything that has been asked of us. This year, we have."
A Top 10, no filler, will also mean no Wild Card selection. However, it is as yet unclear if the new season will retain the judges Save. Without it, last season's runner-up, Jessica Sanchez, would have been eliminated in seventh place. The boy-girl bifurcation (five of each), though, will remain in place.
Lythgoe also noted that the producers were toying with the idea of introducing a weekly standings leaderboard, much like that which was introduced on "X Factor" in its second season. The multiple award-winning English producer admitted that he had wanted to introduce such a system for several seasons but the idea never saw the light of day.
"Now it looks like we're going to be copying them," he said. "I thought it was a good move from when we first came here... We'll still discuss it."
But the most glaring changes to "American Idol" in its twelfth incarnation will be, of course, the judges panel. Going back to a four-person format (which has worked well on other singing competition shows, if not so well when "Idol" first attempted in a few seasons back), the show has gotten almost an entire facelift. With Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez departing after Season 11, they were replaced with not two, but three judges. R&B and pop icon Mariah Carey was the first to sign up. She was followed a few weeks later by rapper Nicki Minaj and country singer Keith Urban, giving "Idol" its most varied set of judges in the show's history.
But everything hasn't changed at "Idol" and the basic format of counting the contestants down to a couple of hopefuls for the season finale will remain the same. And fans will still see the mainstays of the show, Randy Jackson, who will take his place on the judges panel for the twelfth season, and host of the show, Ryan Seacrest, who will also perform his duties for a twelfth straight season.
And the winner will not only be chosen the same way -- by popular vote -- but also have to become that winner the same as they always have -- by capturing America's votes. But "Idol" has produced five consecutive WGWGs (White Guys With Guitars), so what will have to be done to see a female capture the title?
"What they've always had to do, which is capture the vote," Lythgoe insisted. "It isn't always the voice. It is about charisma, it is about personality, it is about attracting an audience, and doing that week on week. If there was an absolute formula to stick to win American Idol by now, we probably would have found it."
The new season of "American Idol" begins on Jan. 16 on Fox Television. The two-night premiere kicks off at 8 p.m. (EST) both nights.
(photo credit: Greg Hernandez, Creative Commons)