Secrets Behind 'American Idol's' Incredible Comeback

 Art Streiber

For the first time, and in dramatic detail, the players recount in the new Hollywood Reporter the crisis at hand after Simon Cowell quit, who was on their first shortlist of judges and the meetings that led to this season’s Dream Team.


JACKSON The first audition city was in New Jersey. We sat down, and I had a very big deja vu to the Hollywood Athletic Club, as it was called then, when me, Paula and Simon did the very first day of auditions. I'll never forget Paula's and my face when the first kid walked in, and Simon hated on them. Paula and I looked at each other like, "What have we gotten ourselves into? What is this thing?" And I think Steven and Jennifer had a little bit of that the first couple of hours. Like, we have to say no to people on camera -- it's not like you can hide behind anything. They were a little shellshocked.

LYTHGOE Then again, they were all there at 10 in the morning, and that was new for us! [Laughs] As soon as I had them at our first audition, I knew it was going to be a long road because they kept giving the singers opportunities. It wasn't like we'd done before, where somebody would start singing and would be interrupted with a, "No thank you. Enough. You're too Broadway. Get out." For them, it was respecting the artist and each other on the panel, so that even if two said no and one said, "I really believe in this person," the two would give into it. So when it came to Hollywood Week, we took about 50 percent more people than we normally had.

KEN WARWICK The audition process is a long job. Everybody who has sat in that chair by 4 o'clock in the afternoon on the 320th person has thought, "Oh my God, I've got another six weeks of this." But they were genuinely involved with the kids, so the time flew by for them.

FROT-COUTAZ The following city was Milwaukee, which I couldn't go to, but Ken sent me a text halfway through the first session that read, "Best judges panel ever." They were just beside themselves with how good it was, both in terms of the judging but also the talent. Everything kind of came together.

WARWICK There was a buzz about the whole day that made you realize, "Wow, I didn't think it was going to be possible, but it's working, and it's working well. These guys are great." Did I miss Simon sitting there? Not like I thought I would because there was a whole new dynamic.

SEACREST It's like meeting someone you want to start dating or you see the house that you want to buy -- it was just meant to be. And for us, part of making this show is being able to screw around, goof off and make fun of each other. It was just like that from Day 1.

LYTHGOE There was some good chemistry here that you could see with your own eyes. Of course, Steven with his Tyler-isms was perfect, and Jennifer looked beautiful from the moment she walked in at 10 in the morning until she we would go home at 10 at night.

JIMMY IOVINE I'm really proud of the judges and what a terrific job they did in weeding through the talent. Everyone feels it's the best crop of people Idol has had in a long time, if ever, and it's because they gave the kids the time, and they were focused, not jaded.

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