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Some big tweaks for 'American Idol'

Tyler among elements to reinvigorate show

Judges Steven Tyler (left), Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson discussed the upcoming season of “American Idol’’ last week. Judges Steven Tyler (left), Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson discussed the upcoming season of “American Idol’’ last week. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / January 16, 2011

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PASADENA, Calif. — When the producers of “American Idol’’ were asked during a press conference here last week if they would need to implement a tape delay in broadcasts for new judge Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith frontman didn’t miss a beat, cheekily replying on their behalf, “[Expletive] no.’’

Welcome to the 10th season of “American Idol.’’ Things are going to be a little bit different.

While no delay is being installed for Tyler’s mighty mouth, the Fox reality competition is making plenty of other tweaks that the creators hope will reinvigorate the series. It remains the No. 1 show on television, but over the last few years viewership has begun to decline — by 9 percent last season — and the median viewer age has risen. Complaints have also gotten louder in recent years about the quality and variety of the contestants vying for a record deal and a shot at stardom.

Executive producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz says the judges shake-up provided the opportunity for an overhaul. “You know, there’s the previous show with that particular cast, and it had a certain personality and certain characteristics, and when you go through a succession planning exercise like this, you have to evolve the show with the people who joined the show.’’

Here’s a look at some of the evolutionary elements for “Idol,’’ which premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m.

NEW JUDGES

Following the departure of original and extremely popular judge Simon Cowell and more polarizing latter-day replacements Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi, Tyler and singer-actress Jennifer Lopez join Randy Jackson at the judges’ table.

“I think they bring more of a critique rather than just ‘Pack your suitcase. You’re going home,’ ’’ says executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, referring to the blunt criticisms of Cowell. “I think they will say, ‘In order to stop you packing your suitcase to go home, this is what you should be looking at doing.’ ’’

“We bring a different perspective, I think, than any of the other previous judges really have before, especially if you’re speaking about Simon specifically. We just do. We’re artists,’’ says Lopez, who appeared at the press conference alongside Lythgoe, fellow judges Tyler and Jackson, host Ryan Seacrest, mentor Jimmy Iovine, and the producers.

NEW NIGHT

The show moves from its previous Tuesday-Wednesday berth to Wednesday-Thursday. Several factors went into that decision according to Fox honchos Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice, including CBS’s decision to move “Survivor’’ off Thursday and the success of “Glee’’ on Tuesday.

IN-HOUSE MENTOR

Iovine, legendary producer and chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, is joining the show as an on-air mentor, and his label will release the winner’s album.

“My role, I think, is to help make sure that we find an original voice,’’ says Iovine, who has worked with a laundry list of artists from Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty to Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. “I see it as working every week, helping them. They will be picking their own songs, but I help with coaching. If they’re going off in the wrong direction, I’m making sure they’re in the right key. We have about four or five great producers that are going to be helping them cut tracks so everyone doesn’t sound the same every week and to make sure every week their performance improves.’’

BANDLEADER

Ray Chew, who previously worked on “The Singing Bee’’ and “Showtime at the Apollo,’’ signs on to replace Rickey Minor, who went to strike up the band on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.’’

FORMAT

Aside from Lopez and Tyler, the show’s biggest changes occur here as “Idol’’ says goodbye to the Top 24, revamping the Hollywood rounds and the way contestants are chosen, including the introduction of judges’ “wild card’’ picks.

“That three weeks is a part of the show that, everywhere we’ve done [it], has always been a bit of a weak point where the viewers weren’t quite in the Top 12 yet, but there were too many kids to get to know,’’ says Frot-Coutaz of the previous post-Hollywood competitive rounds. So, the producers have extended Hollywood week by one week and added some musical and performance challenges including a trip to Las Vegas to work with the cast of the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show “LOVE.’’ “Our overarching goal is to get, hopefully, the viewers to know the contestants better by the time we hit that big stage and the Top 20.’’

The judges will reveal the Top 20 on Feb. 24 — composed of 10 men and 10 women — and when it gets to the Top 10 on March 2, the judges will each get to add a “wild card’’ pick.

Since the show has yet to shoot live, host Seacrest — the only other original “Idol’’ on-air talent besides Jackson — says he has no idea what’s going to happen; but, based on the new group’s camaraderie, he’s optimistic that it will be entertaining. “It will, hopefully, be a little bit of a circus.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.