American Idol revs up this week with this season's first live shows, a familiar face and some new twists.
Yo, dawgs: Randy Jackson is back in the house. The retired judge returns as a mentor for what's being called Rush Week.
Tuesday, (7 CST), the top 15 girls take the stage. Wednesday (7 CST) it's the Top 15 boys' turn. But they won't all perform. Judges will pick who sings; the rest are sent packing. Then America votes.
Thursday (7 CST), 10 finalists -- five girls and five boys -- will be revealed, along with three wild-card picks named by the judges, Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban.
"It's a new thing," says Jackson.
And it's a challenging thing for the veteran Fox reality competition, as ratings for Season 13 are down 20 per cent from last year, following two consecutive years of similar declines. Other hurdles: This week's shows face the Olympics, and next week NBC's rival The Voice returns.
That's partly why producers came up with something different, though "not different for different's sake," says executive producer Trish Kinane, "but different for having listened to what viewers wanted."
They wanted a shorter gap between auditions and finals; less time spent on singers who were going home and more on true competitors for the Idol crown.
"The viewers have watched the show for 13 years. They know about journeys and dreams," says Kinane. "We wanted to take it back to the kids, to have a supportive panel that really know what they're talking about (and) care about the contestants and their progress."
That's why, like The Voice, this season has been nicer than usual, with none of the William Hung fiasco singers of years past.
Jackson doesn't miss judging. "I felt I had done all I could do and said everything I could say as a judge." But this? "I love it, dude. It's a blast."
-- USA Today