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TWoP 10: Why <I>American Idol</I> Is Surprisingly Good This Season

We admit that we were more than a little skeptical when we heard that Simon was leaving American Idol and that they'd ousted all of the other judges besides the typically useless Randy Jackson. And we were still skeptical after the first couple of audition episodes in which Steven Tyler was just talking crazy and Jennifer Lopez refused to be mean. But since the first Hollywood week, this season has completely turned around, and instead of hoping that it would fade away after this year, we're totally enjoying it. Well, as much as we can enjoy a glorified karaoke competition. Here's why Idol is now better than it's been in ages:

10. Better Pacing
This show has regularly promised that it would spend less time on auditions and make the episodes shorter, and lo and behold, this year it finally did. This season feels like it's flying by (in relative terms) and even three airings a week are fine when they aren't all bloated two-hour episodes.

9. Kara and Ellen are Gone
Ellen was supposed to bring the funny and Kara was supposed to bring the music authority, but it didn't really pan out that way. Ellen was just "nice" and Kara repeated everything that Randy said but in the most dumbed-down way possible. Neither of them are missed.

8. Online Voting
The show has finally come into this century and is allowing viewers to vote on this magical device known as the computer. Viewers are no longer confined to expressing their opinions via text messages and phone calls. Here's hoping it shakes up the voting a bit, though since even our grandmas know how to access the web now, there's still the possibility that another bland, safe singer could make it far.

7. Better Songs
Sure, there's the usual Rob Thomas/Christina Aguilera staples getting hauled out again, but there's also a little bit of creativity with songs by Judas Priest and Fiona Apple being performed.

6. Steven Tyler
Sometimes he makes no sense. He also uses a fair bit of profanity. That said, he's surprisingly insightful (when he's not hitting on contestants) and adds some funny zingers into the mix, too. It was a bit of a dad joke (but Tyler isn't exactly a spring chicken) so the WTF thing kind of made us chuckle. (Though it's also possible that after all these years Idol has finally broken us.)

5. Weird Contestants
We have a hard time believing that the likes of Brett Loewenstern, Casey Abrams or Rachel Zevita would have made it the semi-finals with the previous batch of judges. These oddballs don't have the conventional package, but we're glad that at least a few unique spirits made it to the Top 24.

4. Jennifer Lopez
We expected diva behavior or a Paula Abdul clone, but instead we got something that's a refreshing blend of both. She's got the compassion of Paula, but without all the crazy talk. And while she's sensitive and gets attached to the contestants, she still manages to cut them down to size and deliver some tough love if necessary. Though, occasionally, she does indeed pull out the diva behavior, what with having her new single plugged constantly and her teary breakdowns.

3. Sob Stories Got Cut
We figured for sure that Chris Medina was going to be the next Danny Gokey and that Idol producers would find a way to sway the judges to keep him around forever to milk the sympathy vote. But they didn't. The judges voted on talent -- a rare thing in the past. That, combined with the fact that Ashley Sullivan -- who was a trainwreck and the kind of sensational reality TV that this show was built upon -- got ousted, really reconfirmed that it is a brand new day over at Idol.

2. No Simon Cowell
We thought we'd miss his British accent and his cutting wit, but we don't. We thought we'd miss his awkward banter with Ryan, but we don't. The last few seasons, a bored Cowell seemed to be phoning it in, so it's nice to have judges who actually seem like they want to be on the panel. Oh, and Simon told Leno the other night that he'd have kept Chris Medina, which just goes to show you that it was time for him to go.

1. Randy Jackson
When we heard that Randy was the only veteran judge sticking around, we audibly groaned. Why not just wipe the panel clean and start fresh? But we've got to give it up for the Dawg. He's stepped up to become the voice of reason this season, delivering honest and harsh critiques when no one else wants to. He's moved away from the "you did your thing" crap and has really settled in to Simon's shoes. He even banters more with Ryan now. We're oddly proud of him and glad that he's putting the experience he gained after nine years of sitting there to some good use.

Watch TWoP's editors discuss this season of Idol in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable channel:

View more videos at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com.

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