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TCA Press Tour 2011: Up close and personal with the new 'American Idol'

January 11, 2011 |  1:01 pm

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The new "American Idol" came to press tour on Tuesday.

But is it really that different?

Well, let's address the yearlong media preoccupation with the replacement of Simon Cowell. Who will replace the sharp-tongued British judge in crushing dreams? Well, we don't think anyone is. But we need to point out that, finally, Paula Abdul has been replaced.

Steven Tyler is the new Paula Abdul, America.

Do you need an example?

Tyler told the story of how he came to decide that he wanted to serve on the same panel with Jennifer Lopez. (The two musicians kind of look like each other, by the way. See photo above). And, yes, this story involves the movie, "The Backup Plan," which Tyler says he saw returning home from his European tour.

"I saw a vulnerable side that you rarely see in someone of her ilk," he said. "She's a rock star of her own and has this persona of being a wild woman. And when I saw this other side, I thought that is perfect. That is perfect. ... And I was so moved by that. That's what she really was. She was real. And she was in the hood and she came out perfectly in the middle, and I get to sit between her."

No, there are no typos in that quote.

We may not know who our next "American Idol" will be, but we know who our next Paula Abdul is! For sure.

On to some "American Idol" housekeeping. In recent weeks, there have been conflicting media reports about the new semifinals process and how the voting will be done. Here's the scoop, straight from the mouths of the executive producers: Nigel Lythgole, Ken Warwick and Cecile Frot-Coutaz.

Frot-Coutaz, who heads producer Fremantle Media, said there will be no online voting this season.

"We've looked at it, and maybe we'll do it next year," she said. "But there are security issues with online voting. And because of the volume of voting we have on 'Idol,' before we go down that road, we have to make sure it's completely secure and we have to be able to road-test it, and we just haven't had the time. It's not that we don't want to do it. It's just that's there a whole bunch of considerations and it has to be really solid, and we're not there yet."

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The process of finding the next person to walk in the shoes of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood also has changed.

"Idol" producers have extended the popular Hollywood rounds by a week and have eliminated a layer of live competition that leads to the top 12.

By the end of the first part of Hollywood Week, the judges will have narrowed down the pool to 60. The producers have added a challenge in Las Vegas, in which the contestants learn a Beatles song in one night, helping the judges narrow the group to 40. An "unplugged" challenge will bring the number of contestants to 20, with the help of the little people, the voters.

The top 12 will be announced on March 3, and may include some wild-card picks from the judges. Unlike past years, the finalists may not necessarily be divided evenly by gender.

"Some people feel it does need to be even," Frot-Coutaz said. "And this is a personal opinion, because we all have different opinions on this: I think it should be the best talent. It would be a problem if you had two boys and 10 girls. But you know, if it's seven and five, it's not the end of the world. And by the way, once America starts voting, it doesn't stay even anyway."

Wondering what the resident top judging dawg has to say for himself? Is there a new and improved Randy Jackson, who this season gets the last word on performances?

"You'll see a bit more of an assertive dawg," he said. "A little bit more hair on the dog, if you will. Fewer yo's, maybe more no's, less dawgs."

"American Idol" returns for its 10th season on Jan. 19.

--Maria Elena Fernandez
twitter.com/writerchica

Upper photo Jennifer Lopez reacts to Steven Tyler's story about her at TCA Press Tour in Pasadena on Tuesday. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Fox

Lower photo: Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest answer questions from the press. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

RELATED:

Fox announces midseason schedule and moves "American Idol" to Wednesdays and Thursdays

Midseason TV Preview: "American Idol"

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