by Hanh Nguyen, TVGuide.com
All signs are pointing to American Idol Season 13 being a lucky one.
The landmark music competition show kicks off another season Wednesday (8/7c, Fox) and is hoping to distance itself from last year's disastrous circus that featured the excruciating weekly rivalry between former judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Add to that series-low ratings for its forgettable finale, and it's clear that Idol needed to step back, take stock and make big changes.
Harsh troublemaker: The two sides of new Idol judge Harry Connick Jr.
Check out the five ways how American Idol is resetting its brand this season and why we're excited:
1. Judging panel upgrade: Let's be clear: Any panel will be an improvement over last year's train wreck. Fortunately, Keith Urban, the only bright light from Season 12, is back. Mainstay Randy Jackson will only return to the show in the capacity of mentor, which we hope will make him pick his words more thoughtfully and less sound-bite-y. Carey and Minaj are completely out, and returning to fill the diva position is Jennifer Lopez, whose judging style is kind, straightforward and peppered with her catchphrase, "goosies," which is at least innocuous. Rounding out the three-judge panel is jazz great Harry Connick, Jr., who promises to bring a frank honesty but also lighthearted energy to the show. Based on early screenings, this new combo really works -- from offering thoughtful critiques to bringing a fun, rollicking viewing experience.
2. A new boss: Fox fired longtime American Idol executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick and then hired Per Blankens, producer of the Swedish counterpart in addition to the Swedish versions of The Biggest Loser and MasterChef. Unlike American Idol's increasingly dismal numbers, Swedish Idol has been enjoying ratings success thanks to Blankens. Under his leadership, the show also proved to be popular with young viewers.
A Randy Jackson workshop and more changes coming to Idol Season 13
3. Keeping it young: One of the most welcome changes coming to Season 13 is the music choices offered to the contestants. This year, the selection of songs and themes will enjoy a makeover that will allow the wannabes to pick more contemporary tracks. Not only will this play more into their youthful strengths, but we hope that it will also do away with horrifying admissions like never having heard The Beatles' "Let It Be." Sigh.
4. Back to basics: Beginning with the tagline, "The search for a superstar," this season is putting the focus back on the contestants (what a concept!) and the original draw of the series: making dreams come true for the Average Joe/Jane. The audition episodes will also highlight the contestants more -- not only by giving more contestants screentime, but also magnifying the effects of their journey with "The Chamber," a phonebooth-sized holding room in which the wannabes collect themselves on camera before singing in front of the judges.
5. Streamlining: The best news we've learned is that Idol will cut back its results shows. Instead of the bloated mess of yesteryear -- full of unnecessary performances and Seacrest's agonizing attempts at drawing out the tension -- results shows will now only run 30 minutes instead of one hour. Buh-bye, filler! Similarly, the Rush Week round greatly abbreviates the time between Hollywood Week and the live shows.
Will these changes be enough for Idol to trade in its tired, punchline status to reclaim its former glory? Weigh in below.
American Idol XIII premieres on Wednesday and Thursday at 8/7c on Fox.