Randy Jackson predicts America has an "interesting, funny, different season" in store when the ninth cycle of American Idol kicks off next Tuesday on Fox. In a press conference earlier today Jackson assured reporters "this season we have some really good, bona fide, stand-in-your-shoes singers without all the props or all the affectations."
Permanent fourth judge Ellen DeGeneres won't make her debut until Hollywood Week starts February 9th (the episodes are being taped next week), but a host of guest judges — Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Shania Twain, Kristin Chenowith, Joe Jonas, Neil Patrick Harris, Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry — will fill the spot vacated by Paula Abdul for the preliminary audition rounds. "What I like about the guest judges is that they all come from a singing/live performance background, so they know what it's like," Jackson says.
He recalls Mary J. Blige invoking a bit of a "fear factor" during the Atlanta tryouts by being a real "stand-in-your-shoes" singer. "What people don't expect is that these artists who have huge pop careers will really know what they're talking about, but if you spoke to a Lady Gaga or you watch Katy or Avril, you realize their success is based on them knowing what they're doing."
Jackson did remember looking down the judges' table and wondering, "Wait a minute, where's Paula? I'll expect to hear something from her in my left ear and I go, 'Wait a minute, that doesn't sound like Paula!' " he says with a laugh. "It's going to take a little getting used to [not having her there] — the whole thing started with me, Ryan [Seacrest], Simon [Cowell] and her, but welcoming Ellen to the fold is a good look."
Of this season's hopefuls Jackson says, "This year you would have thought there would have been a lot more theatrical contestants that showed up [based on Adam Lambert], but that's not what happened at all." Though he remained relatively mum on specifics, Jackson promised "a couple of interesting wrinkles" for the performance themes and revealed he's most interested in hearing the contestants sing current music. "Where ever you come in with this show, the only thing you know for sure is that you get a shot to go up against your contemporaries," he explains. "This show is definitely a rocket ship to the top. Is it the only rocket ship? No, but I think it's the best show of its kind, ever and it can go on for quite a long time."