By Savanna New

Many have wondered if the absence of Simon Cowell and recent addition of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler to the American Idol judging panel will have much of an impact on the show, which has suffered lately from declining ratings and a stale, tired formula that left even me, a long-time fan, uninterested in watching at all this past season. My prediction? While I’m sure there will be a surge in viewership early on, as folks tune in to check out the new judging dynamic and see if they’re still interested in watching sans Cowell’s wittily cruel insults, I think the overall influence will be minimal. After all, Idol‘s problem has never been its judges, but the format of the show itself.

With Randy Jackson retaining his place as the cool-but-useless judge (whose commentary consists of little else than “That was hot, dawg!” and “Sorry, man, that was a little pitchy for me.”), what exactly will Lopez and Tyler bring to the table? Like former judge Paula Abdul, Lopez will undoubtedly be the “sweet one,” offering encouragement, kind words, and honey-coated critiques. Unlike Abdul, however, I expect Lopez to be a bit more honest and actually provide some constructive feedback to contestants rather than simply saying “Well, you look beautiful!” in response to a disastrous performance. Only time will tell if Lopez actually has enough music expertise to be an effective judge.

As for Tyler, I have no idea what his style might be, though he has said in interviews recently that while he believes in a “tough love” approach, as an artist himself, he has no plans to follow in the footsteps of his chest-rubbing, tight T-shirt-wearing British predecessor.

While everyone seems to be focusing on the judges, more important to the future of Idol are the structural changes to be implemented in Season 10, which is slated to premiere in January. For a show that peaked in its second season and has only produced two truly successful winners (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood), Idol has been in desperate need of an extreme makeover for years now, and with producer Nigel Lythgoe back at the helm, we’re finally going to get just that. Cheesy components that added nothing to the show have been given the boot (no more guest judges, no more celebrity mentors) and, in what I believe to be Lythgoe’s smartest move, theme nights have been eliminated. For the first time, contestants will finally be free to be themselves on stage and sing songs in the genres that best suit them. Thank goodness. I always thought it was ridiculous when the judges would complain that they “didn’t know” a contestant and couldn’t get a read on what kind of artist he or she wanted to be. Well, how can you, when you’re forcing R&B singers to go country and dragging rockers onto the disco floor?

Will all this be enough to save American Idol?

Personally, I would love to see the producers of Idol completely revamp the show’s framework and allow it to evolve into something more reminiscent of Europe’s Eurovision competition, with the American public voting for a winner amongst representative songs and singers from each state. Eurovision has managed to endure for 56 years, remaining popular, current, and consistently introducing artists that actually find success post-win (ABBA, Celine Dion, and France Gall, to name a few). Why does Eurovision work? Rather than taking place over the course of several months, like Idol, Eurovision only lasts a few nights, giving it a somewhat ephemeral quality that a person can’t help but be attracted to. We look forward to events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and Shark Week because of their brevity, relishing the moment more because we know it only comes around once a year and is short-lived. (An American equivalent of Eurovision could probably be stretched into a 2- or 3-week series, given the amount of songs we would be working with.) Eurovision also works because of the national pride factor; sort of a small-scale musical Olympics, countries throughout Europe submit both a song and a singer to perform it, adding an extra element to the voting process. Do you loyally vote for your country’s song, even if you hate it, or betray your roots and adopt a more “may the best win” mentality? Looking at Idol voting statistics, we know that regional bias exists on a certain level, so why not make it an integral part of the show itself?

Something tells me that my ideas are a little far-fetched, at least for now. So what does the future of American Idol have in store? I don’t think anyone can really say at this point. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens. Honestly, if the show doesn’t do well next season, I’d say it’s curtains for what was once called the “Death Star” of network programming.

Savanna New is an associate editor at Picktainment. Email her at savanna@picktainment.com.