American Idol Returns With a Few Changes

Season Eight of American Idol begins tomorrow night (Fox, 8 PM EST) after several off-season changes.

The most obvious change is the addition of 4th judge, Grammy-nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi. We’ll also so a change in the initial audition rounds, as well as a change in the number of contestants moving on to the semi-final round and bringing back the judges’ wild-card picks.

DioGuardi brings with her several years of experience as a songwriter. She’s worked with Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion, Pink, Faith Hill, Britney Spears, the Jonas Brothers, Leona Lewis and Ashlee Simpson, as well as past Idol contestants (and winners) Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, McPhee, Bo Bice, David Archuleta and Clay Aiken.

In trying to see where she fit into the existing panel of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul, DioGuardi said the biggest problems she had was where she was going to actually sit, and when to speak without feeling like she was talking over someone.

As far as the rumors that she is there to replace Abdul, both DioGuardi and Idol Executive Ken Warwick say that just isn’t happening. DioGuardi and Abdul go way back together. They were even roommates several years ago when DioGuardi was just starting out, and they’ve collaborated on some music, including Kylie Monogue’s hit, Spinning Around.

We can also expect her to do a little singing herself this season. At least as she critiques contestants. “For me, it’s so much easier to show them”, she explained. “That’s what I do every day in the studio when I’m talking to the artist, like ‘Why don’t you try it this way?’ I use my voice to express that.”

Oh, in case you’re wondering: If the vote is split between the judges at 2-2, the vote goes to Cowell.

Another change this season is that the ridiculous auditions round, where many of us watch and wonder what happened to these people as children, is thankfully being cut from 4 weeks down to 3. But, to make up for that, they are increasing the Hollywood round from one week to two, where they’re also bringing back the group performances.

Many people seem to enjoy the groups because it gives the viewer a chance to see a side of the contestant that they would not otherwise have seen. It certainly adds another dynamic, watching them try to learn songs and perform when they are exhausted and frustrated.

Idol is also bringing back the wild card selections. As you might remember, those are the contestants that have been eliminated but the judges decide to bring one back. In the past, each judge got one wild card to bring back. This has proven to be an important part of Idol that is long missed. Former wildcard selections include Clay Aiken and Kim Caldwell.

We will also see an increase in the number of contestants who reach the semi-finals from 24 to 36 people. This will give the judges a chance to see more people to move on to the finals.

While they are making some very good changes, I would still like to see some more.

For example, I would be very happy never to see the question and answer segment again. I feel the same way about those ridiculous promos that the finalists do for Ford and the group medley’s that they do in the beginning of the shows.

All of that being said, I’m looking forward to another exciting season that hopefully will give us our next big star (still waiting, David Cook).