Can American Idol continue its winning revamp?The reality competition series has already introduced Harry Connick Jr. to the new judging panel, guitar-accompanied auditions, The Chamber, abbreviated Hollywood rounds and even a viewer-decided semifinalist vote. As Idol enters Rush Week -- airing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (8/7c, Fox) -- more changes are on the way to revitalize the teenaged show. American Idol picks its semifinalists -- but there's a twist!Here's a breakdown of what else to expect from Idol 2.0: 1. Rush Week Just because we have 30 -- make that 31 -- semifinalists doesn't mean we get to hear all of them perform. On Tuesday, the judges will select 10 girls to perform, and on Wednesday, the 10 boys who get to perform. That leaves five girls and six boys who have rehearsed but won't be able to perform live. "[The judges] base that decision on everything that has happened so far and the workshop that we had with Randy Jackson a few weeks ago," new Idol executive producer Per Blankens told reporters during a recent set visit. "Then on Thursday, we see America's Top 10 in terms of votes. But we need a Top 13, so the judges will single out five kids to sing live. And from that show, the judges will pick three from the five. And then we have our Top 13. So those are the Wild Card votes. But they can only pick Wild Cards from the ones that performed on Tuesday and Wednesday." 2. Mentor Randy Jackson The longtime judge steps into the mentor's role with workshops that will focus on the contestants' performance style, image, strategy and, of course, song choice and arrangement. While he wants to steer the kids away from the overdone songs, he'll also try to make them put their own personal twists on them. "We just had an intense workshop with them and I talked about that," he told reporters on a call. "If you want to do 'Hallelujah,' can you do something different with it? It lets you show the range of your talent, if you can take something and move it around like that and make it really creative." 3. Idol success stories Jackson will be joined in the workshops by past Idol finalists Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry. "They've gone on to amass great careers that are still running strong and they weren't even the winners [on their seasons]," Jackson said. "So I wanted the contestants to see that, see their knowledge, see their sense of self, where they've grown, what they thought when they were on the show auditioning, insight that none of the contestants have really had. They were actually in the trenches with the people we were actually judging so they have a completely different perspective and vibe." American Idol: Why we're just wild about Harry4. A 360-degree environment "We have our main stage, and ... the judges and talent come through the split screen," EP Jesse Ignjatovic explained. "Come into the center of the room and we have our judges... And then on the far side of the room obviously we have a seated audience and then our second stage, what we're calling our B stage, and that's where, in results shows, we'll do some eliminations there, predominantly, but also another thing we're excited about is doing performances that touch the whole room." Set designer Baz Halpin added, "We wanted to create multiple areas where performances could take place. We have multiple options now for staging. I think the B stage area and being able to change the direction of what our background is, what we're looking at when we see the set, is great because it really helps to open up the room." When action takes place on the B stage, the entire platform the judges are sitting on will rotate "like a turntable." 5. Breaking up the band Idol's former music director Rickey Minor is back now that Jay Leno has wrapped up his run on The Tonight Show, and his in-house band will be split between the right and left sides of the main stage. "We have Rickey back and we're excited about Rickey," Ignjatovic said. "What we love about American Idol is live music. You know, we have a band, we want to feature them. It's important to have the band in close proximity to the singers. So it just felt right to have them on the stage and split them. It also allows the flexibility if we want to bring additional musicians up on the stage." 6. Fans, fans, fans Much like the old gladitor-style arenas, the audience will get to view the performances from the floor and regular auditorium seats, but also two rows of standing-room-only galleries up and around the walls. "We really wanted to capture that immersive feeling that you could get and really heighten the sense for the contestants as well, so they get three levels of audience all the way around," Halpin said. Harsh troublemaker: The two sides of new Idol judge Harry Connick Jr.7. Under pressure The contestants who aren't performing will act as an additional audience from the side of the auditorium in a lounge area. "[They're watching their co-contestants perform, so there's that extra sense of pressure," Halpin explained and added, "As you might have seen in Hollywood Week, you noticed the chamber where the hopefuls wait. So here, for the first shows on Tuesday and Wednesday, we have a larger chamber where we'll keep the contestants before they have to come out to perform, and again, that's another holding area. There's more pressure, just to make it even more difficult for the contestants." 8. Telling the story visually Blankens said, "We're also going back to the journey and the narrative and what we're trying to this year to bring more focus to getting to know the kids, the songs they choose to sing, what they are as a person because if you can tell that story, then obviously you can connect more and the show will be more relevant to the audience who will pick a favorite." One of the more subtle ways Idol will highlight the narrative is through its camera work. Live episode director Louis J. Horvitz explained, "We want to make this more like a motion picture framing in 16 x 9... You know, most television shows, it's just framed for 4:3 television. You may not be able to detect that when I'm talking to you about it, but the first time you see the shows, you say, 'Oh, that's that frame that he was talking about.' When you use the cinematic frame for the people at home that are watching, it really draws them into the show, and our whole focus is to get everybody to watch the show, not as a rock concert, but for the narrative, which is the contestants." 9. Vote early, vote often Idol viewers will be able to use the SuperVote -- casting 50 votes at a time per contestant -- online, using the Idol app or through Facebook, in addition to the regular voting procedure. Once the live performances begin with the Top 13 finalists, fans can vote even before their favorite contestant sings. "We're going to start the voting at the top of the show," Blankens said. "I don't know if that's [been made] official, but I said it. Wednesdays at 8 o'clock, you can vote. You don't have to wait until after the show. Till 10 a.m. the next morning." What do you think about the new Idol changes? American Idol airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8/7c on Fox during Rush Week.
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