‘American Idol’ Incorporates Even More Changes

Show plans a sudden-death top 20 and eliminates having equal numbers of men and women.

You could see an all-male or all-female top 12 this year on “American Idol.” And instead of viewers at home whittling down the final 24 contestants over three weeks, this year’s show will feature a single, 20-singer “sudden-death” round that will determine the season 10 finalists.

Those are just a few of the additional tweaks “Idol” producers have in store for the upcoming season of the reality singing competition. When “Idol” returns on January 19, viewers will definitely notice the shake-up, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“We’re going ahead with a whole fresh change,” executive producer Ken Warwick told the magazine. “Simply because we never thought in our wildest dreams that any show would last 10 years on American television.”

You already knew there was a fresh judging panel anchored by newbies Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler and that Interscope Geffen A&M boss Jimmy Iovine will be acting as the in-house mentor. But contrary to earlier reports, contestants will not participate in a video-making challenge after the idea was floated and then abandoned.

Another change will also challenge singers who come in with a particular style that they intend to stick with the whole way through. “If you do Motown, then I’m not sure [how] you’re going to sing an R&B song and give it your country flavor,” returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said. “You can’t suddenly go [in a painful country twang] ‘Staaaaap! In the naaeeemeee of loooaahve’ — so it’s not going to be like that. They’ve got to be clever with it.”

Replacing the old three-week top 24 round in which viewers whittled down the semi-finalists to a top 12, Lythgoe said the top 60 singers were flown to Las Vegas, where they performed on the same stage as the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show “Love.” After 20 were booted, another trimming round in Hollywood will take their numbers down to 20, at which point viewers will vote in a single sudden-death round that will select the finalists from two groups of 10.

But, unlike past seasons in which producers split the boys and girls up into equal groups, the final group — which could number 12 or 10, depending on the talent — will not necessarily be evenly balanced. “If I’ve got six fantastic boys and four average girls, I’m certainly not going to throw out a fantastic boy to put in another average girl, or vice versa,” Warwick said.

Other notable changes, according to The Hollywood Reporter, include a “substantial modification” to the set, which will be home to new musical director Ray Chew, formerly of the “Saturday Night Live” band, as well as the return of the “Idol” mansion, where the finalists will live during their run on the show.

Iovine has hand-picked major producers such as Rodney Jerkins (Janet Jackson, Britney Spears), Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, Pussycat Dolls), Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado) and Alex Da Kid (Rihanna, Eminem) to help the singers with song selection and provide help with arrangements. In an effort to avoid the loss of headline heat the contestants face when their albums drop later in the year, nearly six months after the show is over, Geffen Records chairman Ron Fair said finalists will start releasing music as the season progresses.

“The sands of time are slipping through the hour glass and you want to capitalize while the public is so engaged in the story of winning or losing,” Fair said. “Normally with a new artist, the world isn’t waiting. In ‘American Idol”s case, the public is — they want to hear something great. With a big tail wind like that, you want to set sail.”

While many ideas were tossed up against the wall, one that was considered and abandoned was having “Idol” winners face off against former finalists who may have deserved another chance, such as Fantasia taking on Jennifer Hudson or David Cook taking on Adam Lambert. The idea didn’t get very far since few past winners and finalists were keen on it.

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