Image Credit: Michael Becker/FoxFrom the new judges to the new set, the new bandleader to the music itself, American Idol is getting some serious work done for its tenth season. “We’re going ahead with a whole fresh change,” Idol exec producer Ken Warwick says to EW exclusively, “simply because we never thought in our wildest dreams that any show would last ten years on American television.”
Contrary to recent web reports, however, the show will definitely not be introducing a new music video challenge. The idea had been floated as a possibility at one point, but exec producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz tells EW that while contestants are already experiencing new challenges this season, “We’re certainly not going to do the music videos.” And exec. producer Nigel Lythgoe laughs off the idea that a country singer won’t be asked to do an R&B song. “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,” he tells EW. “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.”
A source close to the show also tells EW that contestants will be limited to cover songs when singing for votes, and it is unlikely that voting will move online this season. And the source is quite firm that there was never a plan to bring Idol all stars back on the show in anything other than a performance capacity.
So what big changes are afoot this season on Idol?
One sudden death Top 20 round. Instead of a three-week top 24 round in which America votes, 60 contestants were flown to Las Vegas to sing Beatles songs on the same stage at the Las Vegas Mirage that Cirque du Soleil performs LOVE. “I think a few [contestants] knew ‘Hello Goodbye’ because it was used on a Target commercial,” chuckles Lythgoe, “which is frightening.” But that round only knocked the talent pool down to 40 wannabes. Yet another round in Hollywood will narrow the contestants down to 20 singers, and only then will America vote in a single sudden death round that will select the Idol finalists from among two groups of ten.
A Top 12…or a top 10. While some reports speculate the final group could be as high as 15 contestants, the Idol producers tell EW the finalists will either be a top 12 or a top 10. “It’s one of those situations where we’ll see what the talent’s like,” says Warwick. “We’ll see what cross-section of kids we end up with in that final elimination round. It will be up to the talent that’s there as to whether we go with 10 or 12.”
No gender parity. Say goodbye to Idol‘s often rigid practice of maintaining the same number of female and male contestants in their final group. Explains Warwick: “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.”
For more on all the changes in Idol Land — and EW’s exclusive roundtable interview with host Ryan Seacrest and judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler — check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands this Thursday and Friday.