Remember when "American Idol" was a must-see? Like, every episode, every week? It's been a while since the once ratings-crushing behemoth ruled the air and launched superstars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Daughtry.
But after yet another revamp and reboot, the show that made Simon Cowell a household name and helped Clay Aiken go from musical runner-up to congressional runner-up swears that season 14 could be its biggest yet.
We'll find out tonight (Jan. 7), when returning play-nice panelists Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. and lone remaining OG cast member host Ryan Seacrest rev up the star machine again in an effort to strike gold after several years of ratings slides, major audience erosion and the defection of original sponsor Coca-Cola.
Their secret weapon this time? Big Machine label boss Scott Borchetta, the man who helped pluck a then-unknown teen songwriter named Taylor Swift (perhaps you've heard of her?) from obscurity, elevating her to global superstardom.
"Idol"'s marching orders to Borchetta: do it again, please. The focus this year, according to Borchetta and the judges, is finding singers who are more ready for the spotlight.
Here are seven reasons to tune in to "American Idol" yet again:
Borchetta basically knows what he's doing.Getty Images Entertainment/Larry Busacca
"We want more than just the best singer. We want the best artist. Do they have the desire to go and do the things it takes to do this for the rest of their lives? Do they really want to be a big, successful artist?" Borchetta told USA Today. "If we can shift the psychology, which we've already started, to: 'Hey, just coming to Hollywood, that's not the victory,' (then) somebody's going to win this and have a real opportunity to change their life."
No more pants on the ground.FOX Image Collection
Another change is yet another pledge to ease up on the goofball auditions and mean comments in the early episodes. "You can't just put on some of the crazy artists just for shock factor," Borchetta said. "In the beginning, it was such a shock that people tuned in. Now, it just feels mean-spirited, so they've stopped doing it."
The judging panel's chemistry may finally be right.
Though we kinda miss the Nicki and Mariah cat fights.
Less is more.American Idol/Fox
They've right-sized the show. After the audition rounds, there will be no more mind-numbing one-hour results shows on Thursday. "Idol" will air just once a week, with performances and results in the same episode.
Trial by fire could make the competition stronger.
The top 48 have already earned their dinner. In a switch from previous seasons, when seeming front-runners would freeze up and bomb once they hit the big stage, this year's quarter-finalists already performed a warm-up showcase at the House of Blues in Los Angeles in December to get their performance sea legs.
It's already paying off.
Former MTV News "American Idol in 60 Seconds" host Jim Cantiello saw a second showcase after the HOB gig and he said, overall, the top 24 were impressive. "I felt like they found people who had stage presence and, for the most part, they weren't like the thing that plagued 'Idol" the past seven seasons -- young kids with no experience withering under the spotlight," he said. "It was a good first step, and I think Scott had a lot to do with that."
Later, Dawg.FilmMagic/Rob Kim
After 13 looooong seasons, no more Randy Jackson. Sorry Dawg, but that schtick just don't bark anymore.