The first 12 of the top 36 contestants hit the stage on "American Idol" Tuesday night, and judge Randy Jackson says that this season's contestants are the "most talented bunch we've ever had."
"We say it every season, but I'm not kidding you," he told AOL. "This is the eighth season of the show. People have seen every other brand of artist. But these kids are different than any other season we've had, and I think these boys are some of the most talented we've ever had."
Last season, [artist id="3080428"]David Cook[/artist] managed to win the hearts of Americans, and Jackson, like Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, said he thinks that once again a male singer will charm viewers and win the contest.
"I said it before them, and you can quote me. I was the first to say that," he said with a laugh. "I just think for some reason this year ... the boys are just on a whole 'nother level. I mean, there are some great girls as well. But we'll see who goes through the ranks, because there's a lot more show to go before we get to the end."
In the interview, Jackson addresses why the judges kept Tatiana Del Toro (who is best known for her laughing) and Norman Gentle (a.k.a. Nick Mitchell) around for the semifinal rounds. Both contestants have viewers wondering if they're the real deal or just looking for some TV face time. "[Nick's] a bit of a comedian, but when he puts his mind to it, he's actually a really good singer; he's actually got a voice there," Jackson told AOL.
As for Tatiana, he said, "I know that there's a voice there somewhere, too. And also, you know, what's interesting always to us is you go, 'Who can I remember out of seeing, you know, 100,000 people?' "
Jackson couldn't shed any more light on why Joanna Pacitti was disqualified from the show after the top 36 were announced last week. "I don't really, really know all the details about it," he said. "I think it's just one of those unfortunate things that happens sometimes."
On top of the addition of fourth judge Kara DioGuardi — who Jackson said was "fitting in good" — the producers have even more big changes planned for the show as the season progresses, Jackson revealed.
"We're gonna tweak the genres a little bit. We're gonna tweak the mentor thing a little bit. These are changes that are gonna enhance what the viewer sees at home," he said. "It's not really to take away from it. We're just trying to mix it up a little bit. It's not like we're not happy with the success, and blessed with the success of the show, because we truly are."
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.