American Idol - Judges Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez
Judges Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez during the American Idol Announcement © 2010 Fox

The new season of American Idol kicks off on January 19th – and when I say new, I mean NEW! Aside from Randy Jackson, the entire judges’ panel from last year is gone, including Simon Cowell. Many have questioned how the franchise could continue without him – now the viewers will be the judge of that.

Replacing Simon, Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres, are two pop icons – Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. I spoke with them and Randy Jackson about what we can expect from them and the talent this year.

What was your motivating reason for doing American Idol?

American Idol - Steven Tyler
Steven Tyler © 2010 Fox

Steven Tyler: I did this became I’ve got years of my father in me in musicianship, and I’ve got this melodic sensibility, and I’ve certainly learned it’s not just about singing. It’s about character as well, and what it takes to be on the road to withstand the storm, because it is a storm out there.

To be able to dance and sing is one thing. How you handle fame, and just that thing you can’t put your finger on, that certain something, I think I know what that is. When someone opens their mouth I can see it, their character, what they’ve got, and I hope I can evoke that from them, I can pull that out of them.

Jennifer Lopez: As far as why I did the show, I think this has been well-documented. At first I wasn’t sure about it. And then I thought, I love this show, and where else could I put all the experience I have in this business and all the things I’ve learned to good use by helping other artists? We’re here to help the kids move through it. At the end of the day, America’s voting. We’re judging.

I think for me, for Steven and even for Randy, this year it’s been much more of a collaborative table. We talk about it. We discuss things. And we put forth to them what we think could help them to grow as artists. I thought it would be fun, but it’s more fun than I thought it would be, and I’m so glad I made the choice. I’m having a ball.

Steven and Jennifer, what kind of judges are you going to be?

American Idol - Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez © 2010 Fox

Jennifer Lopez: I think we’re both very spontaneous how we critique each person that’s walked in there. There have been thousands. You’ll have to tune in to really see and get the full scope of how we judge. I know that’s the big question of the day, but the truth is you are just gonna have to watch. We’re very honest and in the moment with everything that we say and we do.

Steven Tyler: I would say [to a contestant] that you didn’t bring what we need to see. I would say we if we didn’t see it in them, and they’ve got too much attitude, they need to bring the full thing. You’ve gotta have the voice.

Jennifer Lopez: We bring a different perspective than any of the other previous judges have before, especially if you’re speaking about Simon specifically. We’re artists. We’ve been up there. We’ve auditioned. I’ve been in this business a long time. There’s nothing like having that type of discussion with another artist to help you grow. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’re there for, to help the kids either move on to the next level, or break the news to them that they’re not going to move on.

American Idol - Randy Jackson
Randy Jackson © 2010 Fox Photo by Tony Duran / Fox

Randy Jackson: I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about people saying who is gonna be the tough one, who is going to tell these kids where it is, where it’s not, who is going to be the mean one? You’ll hear all that from all of us. We honestly give them a full read. If it’s terrible, it’s terrible, and I know what I’m saying, ‘It’s terrible.’

How well would you have done on a competition like this?

Steven Tyler: I’d probably be scared to death. I had all the clubs in ’64, ’65, and moving up the ranks and finally figuring out what it is. These kids have it so much harder.

They haven’t had the good graces to play clubs and get beaten down that way. So they have their mom and dad telling them they’re great, and they feel entitled because they watch the show, and they gotta come up and really give it up, and it’s just excruciating. It’s been hard for me. How would I have done? Lord knows.

Jennifer Lopez: I think when I started out, I was very gutsy, and very ballsy when I was in my early 20s and teens like these kids. Who knows, I might have made it far, might not have made it through the first round. I don’t know.

American Idol - Steven Tyler, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson
Steven Tyler, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson © 2010 Fox

From the talent you’ve seen so far, who has the better chance of winning this year, a girl or a boy?

Jennifer Lopez: We have a lot of great talent, boys and girls, men and women. It’s tough. I already feel emotionally attached when I talk about the contestants. I hate seeing any of them go. I’ve already shed a couple of tears.

Randy Jackson: I know you’ve heard us say this probably a lot in the past, ‘This season, we’ve got the best talent.’ Trust me. We’ve got some heat this season, and I think better talent than we’ve had in many seasons. And I’ll say that because I was here. We’ve got some hot kids.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.