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Big Changes For American Idol

Along with new judges, there’s more in store for the 10th season of American Idol, premiering Jan. 19 on Fox. Longtime American Idolreporter Shirley Halperin details the series’ revamp in new issue of The Hollywood Reporter (on newsstands Wednesday in Los Angeles and New York):

1. UPDATED SET The set is undergoing substantial modification, including the location of the band, led by musical director Ray Chew. A change of more than 40% would allow it to be eligible for an Emmy.

2. FASTER ELIMINATION The elimination process is speeding up considerably; viewers at home will still shape the semifinals, but the Top 24 may go directly to 12 contestants — or 15, as producers are still mulling over a final number.

3. ONLINE VOTING The voting procedure will be overhauled. Plans are in the works for an online integration that would include bonus content and the ability to vote with a click.

4. NEW LIVING ARRANGEMENT An Idol mansion. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe “was keen on it,” a source says.

5. ORIGINAL SONGSProducer-songwriters handpicked by Universal Music Group’s Interscope Geffen A&M Records Jimmy Iovine will mentor the contestants. Rodney Jerkins (Janet Jackson, Britney Spears), Ron Fair (Christina Aguilera, Pussycat Dolls), Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado) and Alex Da Kid (Rihanna, Eminem) will help them with song selection, then arrange and produce the musical accompaniment — a prerecorded track augmented by a live band — specifically for each contestant. And for the first time ever, the contest won’t be limited solely to cover songs.

6. THEME WEEK MAKEOVERS Theme weeks will also get a makeover. “We’re not going to ask a country singer to sing an R&B song, or an R&B singer to do Led Zeppelin,” Iovine explains. “If the theme is ’80s or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, every song will be customized to that contestant.” What’s most important, he adds, is that the song suit the finalist’s voice.

7. POSSIBLE MUSIC VIDEOS While there has been serious talk of music videos to test the contestants’ acting skills, and how they incorporate backup dancers and even their ability to replicate iconic video images from the past, no final decision has been made and one Fox insider says it could be off the table — for now. (More than ever before, Idolis in flux.) “With music breaking on the Internet, the visual aspect of any pop star is huge,” Alex Da Kid says. “We want to make [the process] as real as possible.”  

8. FASTER MUSIC RELEASES Instead of taking the summer months to work in the studio and releasing an album in the fall, finalists will have music out as the season progresses. “The sands of time are slipping through the hour glass and you want to capitalize while the public is so engaged in the story of winning or losing,” says Ron Fair, chairman of Geffen Records. “Normally with a new artist, the world isn’t waiting. In American Idol’s case, the public is — they want to hear something great. With a big tail wind like that, you want to set sail.”

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