'American Idol' exec producer Ken Warwick on the new judging panel: 'It was something that we thought, it could be great, and it might be a disaster'

american-idol-hollywoodImage Credit: Michael Becker/FoxAmerican Idol‘s new judging trifecta — veteran Randy Jackson and newbies Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler — have consumed much of the buzz around the music juggernaut’s landmark 10th season. We’ve seen them working together for five weeks now, and generally, it seems that, as a group, they’re a big hit with viewers. But what do the powers-that-be behind American Idol think of the chemistry between the new panel? Exec producer Ken Warwick tells EW that he’s been very pleased with how the trio have gelled so far. “I have to say, it has been absolutely fabulous,” Warwick says. “We’re ecstatic. It’s never about the individuals. It’s always about the chemistry between them. It really is a star-studded panel, which is what we wanted.” 

Much of Warwick’s commentary about the new judges, as you might guess, focuses on Tyler, who’s been delighting audiences with his off-the-cuff, say-everything style. “Steven says exactly what he feels, whenever it feels like it,” Warwick explains of Tyler’s appeal. “He’s a rocker, a true rocker in every sense of the word. There was a concern: ‘Oh my goodness. He’s completely out of his element. He’s completely away from anything he’s done for the last 40 or 50 years. How is that gonna go?’ And we took a leap of faith, to be truthful. It was something that we thought, it could be great, and it might be a disaster.” But in Warwick’s mind, Tyler’s addition has been anything but a disaster. “The truth of the matter is, for us, here, it has given a totally different chemistry to that panel,” Warwick says. “And it’s a chemistry that everybody loves. Bless him, he took a huge jump of faith as well. Huge, huge risk for him. His credibility could have gone completely down the toilet. And a lot of people expected that what was going to happen — including his own band, to a certain extent. It’s great for me not only to know that he’s hugely successful us but that he’s actually laid all those criticisms to rest. And he can turn around and say, ‘See guys? I did the right thing.'”

In terms of Lopez, Warwick had fewer — but just as powerful — remarks. “We knew that if we wanted someone who had credibility and looked fabulous and had star power, Jennifer would clean up,” Warwick says. “You could never say, ‘Oh but how do you know, she’s never done it.’ Well now, she’s done it all and she’s done it all brilliantly. And the fact is that she looks gorgeous doing it.”

Overall, Warwick seems pleased with the changes they’ve made at Idol this season. “We live in a world where 10 down is the new up,” Warwick says with a laugh, referencing the fact that ratings on the broadcast networks have been sliding for years. “And the truth of the matter is that we’ve remained virtually level. Which is huge. Especially after being on the air for 10 years. Are you kidding me?”

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Read more:
‘American Idol': Dream Beatles song choices?
‘Idol’: 20 Beatles Songs For…Whom?
Gallery: 15 Steven Tyler Faces
All ‘American Idol’ recaps
EW.com’s ‘American Idol’ Central

Comments (50 total) Add your comment
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  • jen

    I love the new panel, I used to just fast forward through the judges especially Simon but now I listen and get a kick out of what they say most of the time. I think it adds to the show in a positive way to have them there. Steven Tyler is awesome and I thought so before he came on AI, now I think it even more. He’s a hoot

    • Mark

      So basically all this guy said was Steve is great because he’s creative, enthusiastic, and intelligent and JLO is great because she’s gorgeous and also because she’s great while looking gorgeous

      • yay

        IT TAKES A LEGEND…TO MAKE A STAR!!!!!!! Yay for Steven Tyler. Awesome!!!!!

  • Ethan

    I just love that these guys – well, Steven and Jennifer – are in awe of great music and what makes a person have an ability to sing and convey something. Simon was harsh and brought out people’s inner hard-to-please side. Randy tries to do that now, but it seems so petty next to judges who are happy to point out someone with a real, palpable skill.

    • Tag

      Agreed. Steven and Jennifer get psyched when they see creativity. Simon never seemed to care about music. He only backed the singers he thought were the most marketable.

      • Heidi

        I love how excited they are to hear great music in any genre. Its totally contagious.
        I do love Tyler but to me the image of Jennifer Lopez, the person, has changed. I believed the diva hype but she is sincere, caring, maternal, and as far away from a snobby kind of judge as you could get. She doesn’t act like ‘I’m better than you’. She acts like she wants each performer to be their best and let the nerves go.
        This has given the show new life and I’m glad that Randy has changed up his own shtick as well – notice way fewer yo yo dawg and more good comments. The three are fantastic together.

      • etm

        Heidi, I totally agree. I was never a JLo fan, but she is great on Idol. You can tell she is a fan of the show and is rooting for the kids. Steven Tyler is great too. They really have energized the show.

  • Sammy

    Wow, you could get drunk playing a drinking game with the number of times this guy said “chemistry”.

    And all he had to say about Jennifer is that she “looks gorgeous”?

    They should have gotten rid of Paula YEARS ago – as soon as those reports of her sleeping with contestants came out in Season 3. She was so doped up and added nothing to the show, which has always been about the talent.

    I hope this year they succeed in finding a star. So far the talent seems better than average.

  • JacklynB

    I agree, the panel is GREAT. The reason I stopped watching last season was the four person downer panel – Ellen, Kara, really? Steven and J-Lo just have so much heart, it’s great to see.

    • Sammy

      Oh yeah, Kara was AWFUL, and Simon was so sour and negative his final year – just didn’t seem to care. And as much as I love Ellen, she was just so out of her element. But yeah, I do wish they’d have thrown Randy out while they were doing the reboot like Andre said down below. Jamie Foxx might have been interesting – he sings, and he’s funny.

      • Heidi

        I think Ellen would have had so much more fun doing idol with THIS panel instead of last year.

      • Pop Culture Bystander

        I hated hated hated when Kara took that Joey-Tribbiani-Smell-the-F*rt-Acting moment EVERY SINGLE TIME before her turn to criticize.

      • Heather

        The Joey “Smell the fart acting moment”!!! Love it! So true!

      • SaraJ

        LOL @ Pop Culture Bystander… yes!! Kara was just awful as a judge period.
        And it would not have been better to add Ellen this year; four judges is too many. Too much screen time that should be given to contestants.

  • Sonny

    Never heard of ‘em.

    • James

      Living under a rock?

    • Tarc

      Troll.

  • Andre

    Randy desperately wants to be relevant to the process and just isn’t. Laughing, rolling your eyes and being mean to contestants is not what a mentor does. Jennifer and Steven and consistently provided critical, relevant and useful feedback. Should’a gotten rid of Randy when they were re-booting.

    • MsDaisy

      They’re judges, not mentors.

    • Michael

      What useful advice do you give to the morons in the audition rounds who just want their 15 seconds of fame or to the Hollywood failures who can’t remember a lyric or stay on key? Even if they were mentors, and they aren’t, there’s not much that you can do other than laugh at the buffoonery. Randy Jackson has been my least favorite judge from the get-go. He still is. Along side JLo and Tyler, he’s somehow bearable.

  • Sammy

    Thank goodness they finally stopped wasting so much time on the joke contestants, and have scaled back the emphasis on the sobs stories to a degree. I like the return back to the talent.

    And the other format changes that are coming up – theme weeks during the audition phase look interesting!

    Should be good!

    • Dasha

      Scaled back the emphasis om the sob stories? Clearly, you’ve been watching some other show so far.

      • etm

        I thought there were less sob stories this season too. Unless I just fast forwarded through them all!

  • flutters

    Yeah I’m really enjoying the show so far this year. I hope the panel’s as entertaining in the live shows as they are in the edited ones.

    But at the end of the day they need good talent too. It seems like they’ve got that in the contestants and a good amount of diversity so those things will be key too.

    • HILDA WEBER

      This year the show seems to be more about the judges than the contestants. I agree Jennifer showed her feelings and gained a lot of followers.
      I’m not sure if IDOL is gaining or loosing it. The show is about finding an idol singer, not an idol judge. AND I DO MISS SIMON.

  • Riley

    Thank you Ken for bringing these three judges together. I love seeing the sheer pleasure on their faces when someone good sings. J-Lo looks like a little kid sometimes the way her face lights-up!

    I’ve always been a huge Aerosmith fan and was also worried about what Steven could bring to the show, and whether he would lose credibility. He’s been Great! Love his honesty, quirky sayings and the general nature of the man. Simon and his comments had grown old and tired. Steven Tyler was exactly what the show needed!

  • Brock

    I love the new judges panel. It seems more relaxed and professional. Both Jennifer and Steven have given strong useful critiques to the contestants. It has amazed me, that I don’t miss Simon at all.

  • Paula

    I love the new panel and I think that Jennifer and Steven have given Randy new life! He has been on top of his game this season…Can’t wait to see the final 12!

    • Pisces228

      I feel like Randy has been given new life as well. It’s like he’s coming out of the haze that was Simon’s negativity, and latching on to the love of music and genuine enthusiasm that Steven and Jennifer exude. I love this panel. Can’t wait to see how they do on the live shows!

  • gokarm

    I’m really glad Simon left. You could tell he was just sick of it and Jen and Steven really have some “glee” in the proceedings. It’s a happier show because the judges actually get excited and have some fun. They’re sweet and charming and even Randy doesn’t annoy me as much as he used to. A very good reboot all around so far.

  • Darrin

    I had all-but-written-off this season, but I find the new panel to be absolutely terrific. The show feels fresh and it’s a pleasure to watch again. Simon who?

  • Brainiac

    Seems to me like Randy is one of those people who is just too easily influenced by the people he’s around. He was actually good season 1 – and I remember reading an article in which Kelly Clarkson said Randy was her favorite judge! But then he just started to act like Simon. Now that he’s out, Randy’s a good bit nicer and behaves more like a proper human being.

    It’s amazing, but without Simon, the show is actually much better. I admit that I missed Paula the first year she was out; it seems that, as nutty and loopy as she was, she was quite instrumental in picking good contestants in the earlier stages. If it weren’t for her, Simon would have kicked out Kelly Clarkson! Plus Kara and Ellen just plain sucked, they had NO business being there.

    This group of judges does a good job selecting people and when people are not good, they do not unnecessarily insult them or hurt their feelings. The show is so much better now, and it’s about what it should be – the singers.

  • Nolan Martin

    Love me some J.Lo!!!

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