American Idol returns for its 10th season Wednesday night a bruised giant. The show arguably hasn’t crowned a superstar since Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood. Season 9 was its worst yet with a field of uninspiring finalists and an ensuing dip in the ratings. Even famously fussy judge Simon Cowell had had enough and bailed.This means big changes will greet viewers when the show returns with a two-hour auditions show at 8 p.m. Wednesday (and another show at 8 p.m. Thursday) on Fox. Among the changes: • New judges. Aerosmith’s lead vocalist Steven Tyler and singer-actress Jennifer Lopez join sole original judge Randy Jackson. • Instead of whittling down a Top 24, viewers will vote on half that amount. The field won’t be split evenly among boys and girls, either. Producer Nigel Lythgoe has said he’s not going to throw away a great girl to fit in a mediocre boy, or vice-versa, just to keep the traditional six boys/six girls battle. • Younger age: To find another Justin Bieber, producers dropped the age requirement to 15 from 16. Somehow Idol producers fail to note that they have never found a Justin Bieber through the show. The lil’ Canadian pop star was a YouTube discovery. • Mentors, producers and songwriters will be handpicked by Universal Music head Jimmy Iovine. Contestants can sing original songs for the first time. Also, less emphasis on musical instruments so the coffeehouse guitar strummers of Seasons 8 and 9 won’t dominate and dull down the proceedings. • Theme weeks get a makeover. The chosen songs within the theme will be tailored to a contestant’s voice. Hence, a country cutie won’t have to sing a macho rock tune. • Faster turnaround for new music. Not that anyone’s buying albums from Idols these days — shout out loud if you bought an album from last year’s Top 2 finalists, Lee DeWyze or Crystal Bowersox. You just heard the sound of silence. Still, Iovine promises these finalists will have music available for purchase as the season progresses. • An online voting component and a new stage. Alas, self-important host Ryan Seacrest will still find his place on that stage. — HOWARD COHEN
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