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MAR
15
4 YEARS

'American Idol': Why Season 10 is Reviving the Franchise

Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, Casey Abrams and more gathered at PaleyFest to discuss the show's comeback and recent changes, like this year's partial instrument ban.

American Idol took over the Saban Theatre Monday night for a lively PaleyFest panel, with executives, judges and contestants all on hand to answer fans' questions about Idol's big makeover.

"This... is PaleyFest!" moderator Dave Karger announced at the start of the evening, paying homage to Ryan Seacrest's famous line. The energy remained high for the rest of the panel, thanks mostly to judge Steven Tyler, who got the loudest applause along with contestants Casey Abrams and James Durbin.

Throughout the night, this season's unprecedented level of talent was reiterated by both panelists and audience members. Karger, a self-proclaimed Idol junkie, agreed: "From the very first episode of season 10, you knew that Idol was back."

In the hot seats were executive producer Ken Warwick, president of FOX alternative programming Mike Darnell, judges Tyler and Randy Jackson and nine of the remaining 12 finalists (the three minors, Scotty McReery, Lauren Alaina and Thia Megia, had to miss out because of school).

Fashion choices seemed to reflect everyone's good spirits, with Tyler rocking leopard-print pants and Jackson pairing a colorful tye-dye scarf with gold shoes.

When asked about his approach to remaking season 10, Warwick replied, "The one thing we knew we shouldn't do was try to replace Simon [Cowell]." He said another important factor in selecting judges was their chemistry, something  that came naturally for Tyler, Jackson and Jennifer Lopez the first time they got together.

"We're all from the same side of the tracks," Jackson said of their close relationship.

As for the contestants, Jackson said, "It was about trying to find the whole package." He added that he knew they'd found the right cast during their first group performance on Thursday.

"I gotta tell you, last week, they were incredible because they could all move. They all had a sense of what it's about."

Meanwhile, the contestants giggled and nudged each other nervously, no doubt embarrassed to be reminded of the awkward Michael Jackson medley.

Tyler's terms of phrases were one of the night's highlights. "That's just sauteeing the wrong sauce right there," he cracked upon being asked about his quirky one-liners. He said much of the inspiration comes from his childhood, when he would write down random phrases he came across. "Of all the things I ever lost, I miss my mind the most," he quipped.

James said his favorite "Stevenism" was delivered after the Beatles round in Las Vegas, when Tyler came up to him and said, "Man, you were in the way atmosphere."

Things got a little more serious when Karger brought up Lopez's emotional breakdown over Chris Medina's elimination.

"It was one of the hardest things we've had to do," Jackson said. Warwick added that it was particularly hard for Lopez because of Medina's touching story. "You're faced with this situation that's real and sometimes it shocks you."

As for this year's partial instrument ban, the blame fell on last year's contestants for abusing the privilege. "It got tedious, it got boring," Warwick said. "The audience wants to be entertained," Darnell added, something that couldn't happen when contestants were hiding behind guitars and pianos.

When asked when he would bring his bass out, Abrams replied eagerly, "When I can." However, he said he also enjoys singing without instruments, because "it shows you're diverse."

Casey, who missed Thursday's results show after being hospitalized for Ulcerative colitis, said he was "feeling really good" and had no complaints about missing the show.

"I thought I was actually going to make it, but I had to stay behind," he said. "It was fun and everyone waved at me, and I felt really supporeted by everyone, and I loved watching."

The producers didn't reveal many spoilers, though they did confirm that it would just be the top 10 on tour this year much to the audience's disappointment. "It gives [the contestants] an incentive," an unapologetic Darnell said.

During a "lightning round," contestants were asked to vote for which of their peers they thought deserved the superlatives in certain categories. The winners were:

Loudest: Jacob
Shyest: Thia
Most confident: Stefano
Most insecure: Casey offered himself up when no one provided an answer
Always late: Karen ("I like to take my time!" she protested)
Biggest troublemaker: Paul
Pigs out the most: Jacob
Mom and dad: Naima and James, respectively ("Sometimes I run my mouth and other times I know when to keep my mouth shut," James said)

Most of the barriers came down when it was time for the fans to ask questions. Tyler discussed his rockstar persona, addressing his addictions and claiming "I'm still this kid from Yonkers ... I've got a real close grasp on reality."

There were also some silly moments. At one point, a brave nine-year-old took the microphone to put the moves on Pia Toscano.

"First, for Pia, do you have any plans tonight?" he asked, prompting raucous applause and catcalls.

A blushing Pia responded that she was rehearsing, but that he could join her if he wanted.

Other highlights of the night:

Naima Adedapo prefers to "overstand": The quirky jazz singer explained the reasoning behind the unusual term she used Wednesday night. "I like to fully overstand what's wrong, so there's no doubt in my mind," she said, adding that the term originated in Rastafarian culture.

James' hidden talent: "I've been drawing for as long as I've been singing," the rocker admitted. "It's another way for me to escape my day. When I draw, everything comes out." He also described the inspiring stories of Tourette's fans have shared with him, saying, "It's cool that I get to be the spokesperson."

Stefano Langone's second chance: "Honestly, I wouldn't have had it any differently," he said about being in the wildcard group during the top 24 elimination episode. He said fellow contestant James helped him get through the stressful experience. "He said, 'Do it. Just do it,' " Stefano reminisced, shooting James, who was sitting next to him, a grateful smile. "I had to wear my soul on my sleeve and it worked out perfectly."

Paul McDonald on his "Blackbird" partner Kendra Chantelle: "It was sad to see her go. She's a great singer. As soon as I get back to Nashville I'm sure we'll get together and do some collaborations."

Jacob Lusk's inspiration: The church singer didn't believe it when Jackson told him his rendition of "God Bless the Child" was the show's best performance ever. "I thought they were playing with me," he admitted. He said singing for him is "really about blessing people and touching people ... Everyone here sings because they believe and they love, and they want to share that with the world."

Will we ever seen Scotty sing anything other than country? "At some point he'll probably have to step slightly outside the box," Ken said, though he pointed out that no matter what the crooner sings, "it's gonna sound like country."

Randy Jackson on being "The Dissenter": Turns out Jackson doesn't agree with his new reputation for being the harsh judge. "I am not mean," he insisted before the panel in the press room. "I've always said I didn't like things if people were terrible or not great. Before it was just that maybe I was one of the fewer ones saying it." Later, when the subject was brought up again, he protested, "You call it as you see it always, right?"

Any chance a Journey reunion tour will ever happen? According to Jackson, there's still a slight sliver of hope. He said he recently told former bandmate Steve Perry, "If you do it, I'll do it" -- "so we never know." He later nudged Steven and playfully suggested an "Aerosmith, Journey, Van Halen tour," which sent the crowd into a frenzy. 

It's not how far you go that matters: When asked about whether post-show success depends on when a contestant is eliminated, Randy said matter-of-factly, "It's who makes the best record, and the best record has the best songs."