When American Idol returns on January 19, it will be the first time in 10 seasons that Simon Cowell won't be sitting on the far left of the judges' table. But when new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson, and returning producer Nigel Lythgoe for Fox's presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour, Cowell was still a recurring topic of conversation.
On how the a Cowell-less panel will be different, Lopez said: "We're not here to break people down, but we're here to guide people through it." Jackson, who will take over Cowell's seat, was typically incoherent, saying he would be "more of an assertive dawg... Fewer 'yo's' and less 'dawgs.' Maybe a little more hair on the dog. I think it's just a different kind of panel."
As for major changes, record company chairman Jimmy Iovine will become an in-house mentor:
"My role, I think, is to help and make sure we find an original voice and a contestant that's going to sing with their own voice rather than sing like someone else, which is not attractive to a record company," Iovine said.
For Idol fans who have warmed up to guitar-pluckers like Lee Dewyze and Kris Allen, Lythgoe warns that contestants will have to rely less on their instruments. He also adds that the decision to lower the eligibility age to 15 has added zest to the decade-old series:
"[Producers] felt as though they had a bunch of strummers rather than guitarists or musicians," Lythgoe said. "[Contestants] hid behind their guitars and certainly we want to avoid that."
Lythgoe said another new rule -- allowing contestants as young as 15 to compete -- has already made a big impact. "The biggest thing that's happened this year is opening it up to 15-year-olds. All of a sudden we had either a bunch of very immature kids that came in and left very quickly, or they came in and they were shockingly good," he said. "That's been the biggest surprise to me because I was slightly worried that we'd get a lot of kids come and cry their eyes out, but it's the 28 and 29-year-olds that are crying their eyes out."
Finally, Fox Networks Group Chairman Peter Rice dismissed concerns (albeit, vaguely) that Idol is too similar to Cowell's much-buzzed about new talent competition X Factor:
"It's actually very different from Idol," Fox Networks Group Chairman Peter Rice said of X Factor. "It's a different feeling, a different experience.""You'll see the infectious nature of X Factor," Reilly added, admitting that he also believed the differentiation between the shows to be "insignificant" initially. "It's completely different."
Read the full story at TV Guide.