American Idol is back with a new season on Wednesday. Long-time viewers of the singing competition program will notice some big changes. Tasked with finding another Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, Idol show runners have introduced elements into the show that will test contestants’ ability to put on a show.
Those changes started in the Idol auditions, when returning judges Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban were on the lookout for more seasoned performers. Connick told USA Today they learned from previous seasons what worked and what didn’t, for the program and for the Idol contestants.
“There were a lot of talented kids last year (who) didn’t do that well on the show, whether it’s because of nerves or lack of experience. What we all tried to do was find kids that would be more ready for the American Idol experience… If you’re going to be an entertainer, you have to be able to perform on cue.”
Changes included a contestant performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles before the announcement of the top 24. The live show gave judges valuable insight into how potential Idol finalists entertained in front of an audience, and not the sterile environment of a studio audition. Connick said the performance had some surprising results.
“That was very specifically designed to see them in a situation in between being alone in an audition room and being on that huge Idol stage. It was to see them in a small environment, packed with people, to see how they looked in front of an audience. We learned a lot. In my mind, I knew who was going to crush it — and they crashed and burned. And the ones that I thought were going to come in second, they destroyed it. It was immensely helpful to us.”
Other big changes include the eventual elimination of the results show. Once Idol is reduced to one show a week later on this season, performances and contestant cuts will happen in the same episode. USA Today notes that Idol has fallen significantly off its ratings peak. The program debuted in 2002 and has faced challenge from other entertainment competition programs such as The Voice and X Factor.
The X Factor has been cancelled and The New York Daily News reported in May, 2014 that both Idol and The Voice have seen a ratings decline. The Voice has yet to produce a major star, and Idol has not seen a chart-topping series winner since Carrie Underwood in 2005.
Season 14 of American Idol debuts Wednesday, January 7 at 8 p.m. on Fox.