From Ray Richmond, who has been contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
The hot new (read: Simon Cowell-less) American Idol got rolled out by Fox on Tuesday morning at the TCA confab in Pasadena, with new judges J-Lo and Steven Tyler and new/old showrunner Nigel Lythgoe but without a man named Simon, the one named Cowell, arguably the nasty voice that has long stirred this top-rated drink for a phenomenon that enters its 10th season on Jan. 19.
First question of the day: Does anyone take it personally that everyone presumes there is a Hummer-size hole in the show to fill due to the looming absence of Simon’s bracing venom? “No,” insisted Randy Jackson, the only returning judge and now the undeniable veteran. “We don’t take it personally. Of course we love him and miss him, but what we’ve added with these new superstars is a lot. We’ve got a rock legend in Steven and a triple-threat in J-Lo.” This marked the first time in a public forum that someone has expressed “love” for Cowell.
For his part, exec producer Lythgoe expressed little concern over “Idol” continuing on its merry Number One way. “It’s an entirely new cast, and an entirely new show, but you need to evolve after you’ve been on the air for a decade, so it’s time,” Lythgoe said. “Simon’s leaving allows us to be creative and to shake things up.” Agreed exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz: “It was important that the show itself change, the direction, and that it wasn’t just a change in cast. You need to have the show match the new cast or you’re just casting somebody else’s show.”
Fox reality guru Mike Darnell also evoked a “What, me worry?” attitude, even after it was pointed out by a critic that Idol’s median age had crept up from 32 to 45. “I like to think the show has aged with me,” he noted. “But I mean, here’s a show that’s achieved Number 1 six years in a row. That’s bigger than M*A*S*H, bigger than All in the Family. What its achieved ia phenomenal. What this is about this season is keeping the show feeling fresh and new.”
The irony of that, of course, is that the new blood isn’t exactly brand new and fresh off the farm. Tyler has been rocking out since the 1960s. Lopez has been a star for the better part of 20 years. The thinking is that both are here not to replace Cowell but to burnish their own credentials as decent, likable people, not lay into amateur singers.
“We’re going to be very honest in what we say and do,” Lopez insisted on Tuesday. “Steven and I are both very spontaneous. I think he’d agree that we’re here not to break people how but to guide and help mentor them through the process…But I have to say, this has been a lot of fun, much more than I even thought it would be. I’m glad I made the choice to do this.”
“Why did I do this? Well, I’m not totally sure yet,” Tyler admitted. “It’s not just about singing but character with me.”
For his part, Lythgoe noted that there will be a renewed emphasis this coming season on not just wedding out the riff-raff but on “finding the next superstar. The performance part for me is more important than ever. In the new season, it’s more about searching for that eventual winner than stopping people from getting there.”
No, that was Simon’s job. And it doesn’t appear that he’ll be coming back anytime soon. We’ll have to see how that lack of a villain works out.