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'American Idol': 7 Changes for Season 13

A Randy Jackson "workshop," returning alums and the spirit of Paula Abdul are all in store for the Fox show's latest run, kicking off Jan. 15.

Idol judges Ryan Seacrest season 13 L
Michael Becker / Fox

With American Idol about to kick off its 13th season, plenty of questions remain as to how the show may be different in 2014. Expect some of those changes to be illuminated during today's Fox panel at the annual gathering of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, but The Hollywood Reporter's Idol Worship has this early report.

1. More current songs: As THR noted in a preview posted on Monday morning, new Idol producers Per Blankens and Den of Thieves' Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager have made a point of freshening up the song list, providing more contemporary choices for the contestants. Also, according to a source, the show will offer more "wide-open themes" so that no one is forced into a particular song or restrictive genre.

2. Top 13 to come -- and fast: An additional taping in Santa Monica brought the post-Hollywood Week group down to 30 contestants, 15 boys and 15 girls. From this group, America will vote in a final 10 and each judge will have an additional "wild card" pick. (Idol loyalists will recall this format allowed finalists like season-two's Clay Aiken a second chance.) The cut from 30 to 10 will all be contained to one week, so that the contest can pick up steam quickly. The first live show is scheduled for Feb. 20, well ahead of the typical early-March start of years past.

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3. Introducing ... Randy Jackson's "Boot Camp!": The 12-season judge and Idol mainstay will return to the show that made him a household name. His task: to help guide the contestants through the star-making machine. Expect special guests and plenty of befuddled looks from the beloved producer as he and the finalists workshop through songs, sound and career expectations. Says a source, "The boot camp is so that America will really get to know the contestants before they vote for the first time."

4. Idol alums return: It's not only about such superstar graduates as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Phillip Phillips. It seems the new Idol team is making a concerted effort to involve past finalists. Season eight's Allison Iraheta, for example, will be singing backup in Rickey Minor's band. (Sadly, guitarist Brady Cohan, a member of Ray Chew's band, will not be coming back.) Past winners Kris Allen and Taylor Hicks have already participated in Q&As via the newly created Idol Blitz. Says executive producer Jesse Ignjatovic of including past Idols in future shows, "We're always open to it. We collectively love the idea of bringing previous Idols back to the show."

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5. Paula Abdul's back? In a metaphorical way, yes. Says an insider of the new, warm and fuzzy Idol judges panel, which includes Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.: "They all have a Paula Abdul quality. They're very nurturing, they like each other and the mean thing seems to be gone." Indeed, even the bad auditions will apparently play less of a role in the lead-up to live episodes. 

6. No more sob stories for sob's sake: A production insider reveals that segments on finalists, while championing the everyman, won't have that extra layer of sap for which Idol is known. "We don't want to tug at the heartstrings where it's, like, 'Let's feel bad and vote for this kid even though he can't sing.' We want great stories and great people."

7. It's a brave new world behind the scenes: Who can forget the 2013 episode of Idol when ex-judge Nicki Minaj arrived late to the live show. Not the case on this year's Idol! "Everyone shows up on time and there's no waiting around," says a backstage source, adding that the vibe behind-the-scenes is noticeably "lighter" and less stressful and that everyone's eyes seem to be on the prize. "They really do want to make sure to get a big one this year."

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin