Inside 'American Idol's Big Gamble: New Judges, New Night, New Look

VIDEO: Sources say Jennifer Lopez is no longer a potential American Idol
WATCH Is J.Lo Too Much of a Diva for 'Idol'?

It's back to the beginning for "American Idol," which is trying to shake up its timeworn formula while returning to its roots for its 10th season.

Though the show kept its No. 1 primetime spot last season with an average 24 million viewers, the ratings were lackluster, sliding nine percent.

Now the veteran talent show is returning with new judges, its original executive producer Simon Lythgoe and a renewed emphasis on the program's original mission -- finding the next music superstar.

"It's the 10th anniversary, a milestone moment in the show," The Hollywood Reporter's music editor Shirley Halperin told "It's about regaining 'Idol' glory."

Up to now, the big news has been the addition of new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler filling the seats vacated by Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi. They will join Randy Jackson, who will take Cowell's old seat as Top Dog.

Cowell, one of the three original judges, left after nine years to work on bringing his British talent show "The X Factor" to American audiences this fall. Comedian DeGeneres, who never quite jived with the other judges, departed after just one season. And songwriter DioGuardi, the unpopular "fourth judge," found herself booted for the new season's reboot.

In an exclusive interview with Entertainment Weekly, the new team conceded the new season won't be the same without Cowell.

"There are less clouds of smoke," joked Ryan Seacrest, who will be returning as host. "We start earlier. There's less — what is that English dish he always ordered for lunch -- shepherd's pie? He loves shepherd's pie."

"No, it's the blood pudding," Jackson said. Then, turning serious, he added, "It's a different kind of vibe. It's a different energy now. And I think in season 10 the show actually really needed it."

Jackson said the new team is not out to replicate any of the previous judges, including Paula Abdul, who left at the end of Season 7.

"We're more of a collaborative judging group," Lopez explained. "We're always leaning over to each other and saying, 'Oh my God, I think she's good.' 'Oof, I don't get it.' 'You don't like it?' I mean, not in a way where it becomes disrespectful to [the contestant's] moment, but we discuss things. We just have a totally different style than any of the past judging tables."

When the new season starts Jan. 19, the judges hope the attention will switch to the music and namely the contestants who are making it.

Tyler raved to EW about the contestants, who, he said, are "just astounding" this year.

"We throw the drift net out and look what comes up?" Tyler says. "Gold. [I'm] crying, honestly, from someone who hit the notes so sweetly and beautifully, not just that it's the end of the day and thank God this motherf---er is the last one. Not that."

Halperin, who profiled the new season for The Hollywood Reporter, gives a quick rundown on the biggest changes in the new season.

A New Night

You read it right, "Idol" will premiere this year on Wednesday night, with results on Thursday -- a switch from its Tuesday and Wednesday time slot the last nine years.

Could it be because "Dancing with the Stars," which airs Monday and Tuesday nights, was nipping at the heels of that talent contest and even outdrew it for the first time last April?

Halperin says competition is part of the reason for the night switch. But it also provides a cover for falling ratings. "If they dip, producers can blame it on the night change," she said.

Halperin also believes Fox is trying to nurture its other big moneymaker, "Glee," which will be showcased on Tuesday, instead of following "Idol."

A New Look

"Idol" goes through a stage makeover every three years and this year, Halperin expects substantial changes.

"They just want to ramp everything up," she said.

Possible changes include a snazzy new set, moving the band to the typical orchestra setting, even new camera angles to engage viewers.

If there's enough drama, producers may bring back the "Idol" mansion, putting contestants under one roof and showing the audience their lives off stage.

The show could also move a lot faster by shortening the elimination process. Rather than a top 24 semi-final round, it could go directly to 12 finalists or 15 depending on what producers finally decide.

A New Diva

If the reports about contract negotiations with Jennifer Lopez are to be believed, then there's a new diva on the judging panel.

But Halperin, who spoke to a season 10 contestant, said J Lo is hardly a diva. "She is really nurturing, gives good advice and is warm and empathetic -- what we wanted Paula to be but less kooky," she said.

The diva, it turns out, is Steven Tyler. "He requires a lot of breaks for makeup and hair touch-ups," Halperin said. "It's interesting to note that the guy with long hair requires as much fussiness in makeup and hair as J Lo."

But Halperin expects a breath of fresh air from Tyler, the judge, who has never before seen the show but has one of the best voices in the music industry.

"He's the most unpredictable," she said. "The more he could potentially riff and speak off-the-cuff the better."

That doesn't mean going back to his old ways, which landed him in rehab, either. "His sobriety is 100 percent apparent," said Halperin, who spoke to show insiders.

New Voting Rules

Producers have until March to iron out voting issues before the first audience votes are cast.

One experiment they may try, Halperin said, is to add online voting, which is not only easier but solves issues with time zones.

Another digital move that could bring in more votes is allowing contestants for the first time to use social media, like Twitter and Facebook.

More Music Business Cred

Last year's "Idol" winner Lee DeWyze sold only 98,000 copies of his debut album.

If winners keep up that track record, the show will continue to lose credibility within the industry. To keep that from happening, the show is shoring up its original premise, which is the search for a superstar. "Idol" has broken its partnership with Sony and is now working with Universal Music Group and Jimmy Iovine, chairman of UMG's Interscope Geffen A&M Records.

Iovine is a veteran producer who has worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Lady Gaga. For "Idol," he has assembled a "dream team" of producer-songwriters including Rodney Jerkins, who made hits for Janet Jackson, and Timbaland, who did the same for Justin Timberlake.

Though it's still being discussed how these hit-makers' original songs will be used, it's a sure bet that there will be a lot more hand-holding with contestants when it comes to choosing the best songs to suit their talents.

"You're you going to see career shaping as the show is happening," Halperin said.