In some ways, the 10th season of "American Idol" is a whole new show. With legendary meanie judge Simon Cowell not on hand to offer up his cutting putdowns for the first time in the show's history and Jennie-come-lately panelists Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres off the panel as well, there's a chance for "Idol" to reboot after a lackluster season nine that saw ratings slip.
There are quite a few changes in store, many of which have gotten professional "Idol" watchers excited for the show for the first time in a long time. When the new season boots up Wednesday night (January 19), MTV News' "Idol" expert and "Idol in 60 Seconds" host Jim Cantiello said he'll be even more amped up than he usually is (which is super-duper amped up).
"I can't remember the last time I was this excited for 'Idol' to start," said Cantiello, who will host the live stream "Judging the Judges: An 'Idol' Without Simon" right after "Idol" airs, at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.com. "There's a lot on the line for the show, with Simon Cowell's 'X Factor' waiting in the wings. 'Idol' producers are no dummies. They know if they don't become part of America's water-cooler buzz each week that their show is officially done. I'm sure they've painstakingly cast the show and truly kept their eyes peeled for the best talent out there, not just the best backstories. After nine seasons, America is burnt out. They're ready to shake things up, and I, for one, cannot wait."
As much as he's going to miss Cowell's acerbic wit, Cantiello said he's really looking forward to new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. "I can't wait to see the insane energy Steven brings to the table," he said. "He's going to make for some great live TV. And then there's Lopez, who I imagine being deadly serious. I'm thinking business suits, furrowed brow. She's going to want to be taken seriously, especially next to crazy Steven."
After a few seasons of lackluster performers and stagnant ratings, Entertainment Weekly "Idol" writer Annie Barrett said she's just looking forward to what feels like a whole new show. "It will have to be, because there's no Simon," she said. "I have no idea what to expect, but I hope that it can be, if not a train wreck, then at least not boring. Without someone to be the villain, it's great if they all get along, but will that work on TV? Will it be compelling?"
Barrett said she'd love it, frankly, if it was a train wreck, if only because it would make the show more interesting. But she'll definitely miss Cowell, who for her was the main reason to watch the show in the past. "He was so adept at taking down people and everything he said got to the real heart of what was wrong with that person," she said. "If there's no one to do that and it's all sugarcoated, I will be disappointed."
Both Barrett and Cantiello said they were a bit concerned about the show's decision to drop the age limit down to 15. "I definitely don't think the show needs younger contestants," Barrett said. "It's already pretty painful to watch some teenagers who are so expertly molded into reality-show creatures ... it can be kind of creepy. ... I don't think 'Idol' was hurting for more youth."
Cantiello was also worried about the new youth movement, noting that some of the 16-year-old contestants "really choked" on live TV after making it into the top 12. "Opening the doors to 15-year-olds may only exacerbate that problem," he said. "As much as they want to find the next [Justin] Bieber, they better figure out a way to ensure that the kids don't crack under the pressure."
There was also some concern that the two new superstar judges might distract from the promised return to a focus on the contestants. "My biggest hope is that 'Idol' finds one-of-a-kind talent this season," Cantiello said. "Ellen DeGeneres proved that a big star on the judges' panel does not necessarily ensure a must-see 'Idol.' The show lives and dies by the contestants it highlights. If they don't find the most compelling, the most interesting and the most talented group of singers, the show is going to be as culturally relevant as 'Skating With the Celebrities.' "
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 tonight at 10 p.m. ET. Tweet your "Idol" commentary with the hashtag #idolwithoutsimon, and we could quote you on the show!
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.