After hitting way too many sour notes last year, 'American Idol' returns this week with a newly constituted panel of judges and a desire to create a more harmonious experience for viewers.
Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. appeared here at the TV critics press tour for a media conference to promote Season 13 of 'Idol.' Also in attendance were host longtime host Ryan Seacrest and producers of the show. They all insisted that the feel of 'Idol' will be dramatically different than last season when former judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj openly feuded.
'When you watch a show, you want to see people having fun, having a laugh,' said 'Idol' host Ryan Seacrest. promising that viewers will find a much more upbeat atmosphere.
Added Lopez, who returns to the panel after a year away, 'It's sparkly and fresh and new again.'
And apparently amicable. Urban, who witnessed the contentious relationship between Carey and Minaj during his initial season on the show, said he, Lopez and Connick got together for dinner on the first night of work and found the 'synergy to be fluid' from the start.
'We have a a very shared spirit,' he said. 'We're trying to make sure we're having fun. We're all in it for the same reason.'
But will it pay off in better ratings and buzz? Season 12 averaged 15 million viewers, down a whopping 11 million from 2011. It was a giant come down for a show that ruled prime time for nearly a decade after debuting in 2002, but now often plays second fiddle to 'The Voice' on NBC.
To spruce things up, new executive producers Trish Kinane and Per Blankens are introducing a number of tweaks to the show. Among them: The audition rounds have been condensed and there will be less footage of the goofy singers who don't belong. Also, former judge Randy Jackson will return to serve as an in-house mentor, and the song book will be expanded to allow the young contestants to perform more contemporary tunes.
The changes, said Kinane don't constitute a wholesale revamp.
'It's still absolutely 'American Idol,'' she said. 'There's nothing where viewers will go, 'Oh my God, what have they done here?' … It's still the gold standard, the original formula, the Cinderella story.'
Meanwhile, Connick Jr., who was effusive throughout the media conference, insisted that, just because this season's judges will present a united front, they don't always agree on which singers should advance. And just because there are positive vibes in the air, it doesn't mean that they won't offer honest and blunt critiques.
'I don't believe you have to couch your critique with compliments,' he said. '… I love the kids, but we've got to get on with the show. If someone can't sing, they need to go home.'
'American Idol' returns with a pair of two-hour episodes this week. Wednesday's opener features audition rounds from Boston and Austin, and Thursday's installment includes auditions from San Francisco.