‘Idol’ Season 10: Bringing the Nice

On a panel to explain the new season of “American Idol,” the retooled celebrity judging staff, its new mentor, its returning producer all painted a picture of the new season that will be more

Simon Cowell may have put the show on the map with his strikingly blunt assessment of hopeful singers, but neither Randy Jackson, the sole remaining judge, nor the newcomers, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, seem ready to sharpen those same critical knives.

Instead, with a new mentor installed in record producer Jimmy Iovine, it’s all about gently coaxing the best singers through the process in hopes of finding a star at the end, rather than slamming those who fall short.

“I’m not here to break people down, “ Lopez told a packed session of the TV Critics press tour in Pasadena Tuesday. “I’m here to help kids move through it, to guide them through it and mentor them through it.”

Nigel Lythgoe, the producer who had left the show for a season, and had a displayed a more nurturing side in his own role as judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” is back behind the scenes with “Idol” and says the judges’ job this time is to “bring more of a critique more than just ‘pack a suitcase and go home.'”

“It’s a lot more about searching for that eventual winner, rather than stopping them from getting there,” he says.

“We bring a different perspective than any of the other previous judges, Simon in particular,” Lopez says of her role. “We’re artists.”

In a short preview clip of some auditions, the panel is seen to be reluctant to talk tough to the worst-sounding singers. Just about the most critical thing they come up with in the preview is: “I like your talking voice better than your singing voice.”

Iovine’s role as mentor is meant to get an earlier involvement of the record company in hopes of finding an eventual star.

“My role is to help make sure we find an original voice,” Iovine says. “Rather than someone who is signing like someone else, which is not attractive to a record company.”

Through the show, he makes sure he coaches them, helps them pick songs and tries to ensure that every week their performance improves. “I believe in the past they weren’t getting that.”

Other tweaks to the show include moving the performance and results shows from Tuesday and Wednesday to Wednesday and Thursday, we well as remaking the semi-finalist stages. After the audition rounds that begin in New Jersey Jan. 19 and New Orleans Jan. 20, the Hollywood rounds will air Feb. 16 and 17 before moving to Las Vegas, where remaining contestants will have to learn a Beatles song overnight to perform on the Cirque du Soleil LOVE stage in an episode airing Feb. 23.

The end of the Vegas session closes Feb. 24 with the naming of 20 semifinalists — 10 guys and 10 gals. The semifinalists will compete on March 1 and 2 with the five male and five female singers with the most votes becoming the finalists, along with the wild card picks of judges, announced on March 3.

Cowell isn’t entirely out of the singing show arena. His new show “The X Factor” will premiere on Fox in the fall.

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