When TV’s biggest show “American Idol” returns for its 10th season, viewers will be judging much more than the wannabe talent.
A series of changes are in store for the 2011 reboot of the reality singing competition as it faces its biggest hurdle: sustaining its top-rated success after fans said farewell to Simon Cowell, the loathed and loved lightning rod of snarky sound bites who served as the show’s must-see draw the past nine years.
Producers have prepared fans for months for the arrival of two new judges and have said that the focus this season will shift back to the competitors.
Before drama king Ryan Seacrest resumes his hosting duties Wednesday, please allow us to break down some of the show’s biggest changes:
—Pop Judge Jenny
The 4-1-1: The Bronx-bred Jennifer Lopez first hip-hopped her way to national attention during the early 1990s as a Fly Girl dancer on Fox’s “In Living Color.” But her ambitious drive and natural assets — displayed on the silver screen, the Billboard charts and as a successful advertising brand — helped her become one of the most powerful and visible women in entertainment.
The score: The pre-“Idol” talking points from Lopez (and last remaining original judge Randy Jackson) have squarely been focused on “the kids” and their singing dreams, but the show’s next-day water-cooler moments aren’t ever solely about the performance pipes. If ratings fall short, expect producers to greenlight some instant drama and unleash J.Lo and her mesmerizing diva tendencies.
—Rock Judge Steven
The 4-1-1: Front man of the Boston-bred Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Aerosmith, Steven Tyler heads to the “Idol” judges panel following a tumultuous past couple of years with his band, including a 2008 rehab stay, a canceled tour in 2009 after Tyler fell off a stage, countless breakup rumors that came to an auspicious head last August after guitarist Joe Perry, who publicly ripped Tyler while he was in “Idol” negotiations, hip-checked his colorful front man right off a Toronto stage.
The score: The “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” singer might have just told reporters Aerosmith will tour again (though they’re having a hard time getting hold of Perry!), but this 62-year-old icon is thrilled to kick back in his new high-profile post. He’s likely to make the most of his camera time, which will probably veer more toward the blurred reality of former judge Paula Abdul than the condescending ways of Cowell.
—Inside with Jimmy I
The 4-1-1: The chairman for Universal Music Group’s Interscope Geffen A&M Records, Jimmy Iovine is one of music’s most powerful and respected behind-the-scenes players, having worked with everyone from John Lennon to Bruce Springsteen to Mary J. Blige. Commonly referred to as Jimmy I, Iovine also is credited with hooking up the past decade’s best-selling artist Eminem with hip-hop heavyweight Dr. Dre.
The score: While his role as a mentor has been mostly unhyped, music purists watching at home and wannabe “Idol” stars working with him throughout the competition should rave about this addition. The education and knowledge he’ll bestow should be light years ahead of the grooming superstars like Sir Elton John and Usher have dished out in individual stops. Let’s just hope Jimmy I doesn’t get all fierce and insert “Top Model”-style challenges.
—More game changers
New night: “Idol” will air Wednesdays and deliver results on Thursdays, a switch from its Tuesday and Wednesday schedule of the past nine years.
Set makeover: Details haven’t been revealed, but expect significant changes to the show’s stage sets and look to re-enforce the new era.
Vote off: Some quicker elimination rounds have been promised, including a sudden death vote that will determine the season 10 finalists.
Gender parity: Say good-bye to the formula of five boys and five girls in the finals; this year the most talented will make the final round no matter the gender (and they can be as young as 15).
Vegas, baby: “Idol” hits Las Vegas for the first time to perform Beatles songs on the stage of Cirque du Soleil’s “Love,” paring down from 60 contestants to 40.
Originality: Up-and-coming singer-songwriters will have a chance to show some range as original compositions are in play — not just cover tunes.