Like a high school girlfriend who comes back from her first semester at college looking totally different, no matter how much you think you knew her, the 10th season of "American Idol" will feel brand new.
After a tumultuous off season that saw a nearly wholesale remake of the judging panel, the new season will launch Wednesday with the first of the beloved audition episodes, which always bring the promise of new talent and a fresh crop of delusional weirdos to mock. After Wednesday night's premiere, head back here to MTV.com at 10 p.m. ET for "Judging the Judges: An 'Idol' Without Simon," a live stream featuring post-show analysis from Jim Cantiello and special guests.
What can we expect this season? Here are the major changes in store:
» The debut of new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, along with Interscope Geffen A&M boss Jimmy Iovine, who will be acting as the in-house mentor.
» A Vegas audition round, where the top 60 singers were flown to Las Vegas to perform on the same stage as the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show "Love." Those 60 will be further whittled down before the semifinal round, when America finally gets to vote.
» The return of some sort of "wild card" round where the judges will bring back an as-yet-undetermined amount of finalists.
» A sudden-death round that will determine the top 12 (or, possibly, top 10).
» The end of gender parity. Producers have said that if they need to go with an all-female or all-male group of finalists or an uneven amount of boys and girls, so be it.
» A new set and a new music director in Ray Chew, formerly of the "Saturday Night Live" band.
» The return of the "Idol" mansion, where the finalists will live during their run on the show.
» Additional mentoring from a handpicked group of producers whom Iovine has tapped to help the finalists hone their arrangements. Among them: Rodney Jerkins (Janet Jackson, Britney Spears), Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, Pussycat Dolls), Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado) and Alex Da Kid (Rihanna, Eminem).
» A quicker turnaround on musical releases from the finalists. Geffen Records chairman Ron Fair said finalists will start releasing music as the season progresses.
» A less "dawg"-tastic Randy Jackson. The sole original judge has promised to cut down on the shtick this year as he takes up the memorial Simon Cowell seat.
» The youngest contestants ever thanks to dropping the age limit to 15.
» According to producers, fewer guitars, as they want to see contestants sing and not hide behind their instruments.
» The first chance for "Idol" contestants to try their hand at writing original songs.
» Broader themes keyed to decades or genres of music rather than specific artists, which also likely means fewer celebrity guest mentors.
» And while Jackson never misses a chance to name-drop the artists he's worked with during his critiques, look for Tyler and Lopez to allude to their experiences in the music business to help guide the budding singers get it right. As Nigel Lythgoe said in a recent interview, this season the show is going to be more about finding the eventual winner of the show and less about "stopping people getting there."
What are you expecting from the new "Idol" season? Let us know in the comments below!
Don't miss our "American Idol" live stream "Judging the Judges: An 'Idol' Without Simon," featuring post-show analysis from Jim Cantiello and special guests, on MTV.com this Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET. Tweet your "Idol" commentary with the hashtag #idolwithoutsimon, and we could quote you on the show!
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