'American Idol' Returns for Season 11


It's Ba-a-a-ck!

The 11th season of "American Idol" arrives on Fox tonight, and host Ryan Seacrest says for some viewers, the return can't come soon enough.

"I've been hearing a lot of 'We can't wait,'" Seacrest told ABC News Radio. "Actually, I've been hearing more 'I can't wait for 'American Idol 'to come back this next season' than I've heard in two or three years.'"

Seacrest says he finds that interesting, because there's so much more competition, from shows like NBC's "The Voice," but, he noted, "From what I hear, there's just something about the original, and the Americana, that is 'American Idol.'"

Michael Slezak, TVLine.com's "American Idol" expert, agrees. "I think anticipation is high for Season 11 because people were really let down by what 'The X Factor' delivered," he told ABC News Radio.

So what's different about this new season?

Well, judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are no longer new, and Seacrest says they're more seasoned.

"The first season…Steven and Jennifer, were still sort of trying to understand what it is that you're looking for initially to go through the process to be the Idol," the host explained. "But now that they see what the process is, I think, they look at the auditions a little differently. And 'tougher' wouldn't be the word, but they're much more specific in what they want this year."

Echoing that,  Slezak says that Tyler and Lopez have got to be more critical in their judging this season. Last year, many viewers felt they they spent all their time saying everything was "beautiful."

"I feel like that is the one thing that Season 10 was missing," noted Slezak.

Responding to calls for the judges to be tougher, Jennifer Lopez told reporters, "We try to give them advice as we would want it to be given to us….There's nothing wrong with a little tough love. But there's nothing wrong with a little encouragement either, and a little bit of making them feel great at the same time."

As for what kinds of contestants we'll see, Seacrest says Scotty McCreery's victory last year inspired many country singers to audition this time around, but that's just another example of how the show has grown musically.

"When we started the competition, it was just pop," Seacrest said. "It was strictly, mainstream, stereotypical pop and with each year it's broadened out a little bit and now you see all walks of life auditioning. It makes the show interesting."

Despite the diversity of the contestants, though, the last four winners of the show have all been, as some pundits put it, "cute white guys with guitars." Should something be done to prevent that from happening?

Judge Randy Jackson says no. "This is not a show that we're saying, 'A girl has to win,' or 'A guy.' This is not some, like, sexist, kind of…thing," he said. "If it's another boy this year and that's the most talented person in my eyes…that's who should win."

Ultimately, TVLine's Michael Slezak said, "What it's always boiled down to on the show, is how good is the talent level for any 'Idol' season?" He added, "Success or failure of the season hangs solely on how good the singers are, and if they manage to get that right collection of people together to make that magic happen."

The magic starts happening at 8 p.m. tonight, continues Thursday night and again on Sunday night.