Nigel Lythgoe talks to PEOPLE about Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, instruments, guest judges and more

By Scott Huver
November 08, 2010 01:00 PM
Credit: Mat Szwajkos/Getty

As American Idol prepares to reinvent itself with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler – as well as its youngest crop of aspiring pop stars to date – returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is feeling a little bit country.

“It’s about the talent, it’s about the kids,” Lythgoe told PEOPLE at BAFTA/LA’s Brittania Awards. “We’re seeing quite a lot of country singers, a lot of young talent because we’ve opened it up to 15-year-olds now.”

He added that Lopez, Tyler and returning judge Randy Jackson have already quickly found their own voices when evaluating the aspiring Idols.

RELATED: Jennifer Lopez to Idol Contestants: Don’t Try to Sing My Songs

“Randy has become very, very positive,” said Lythgoe. “Jennifer actually critiques what’s in front of her. She doesn’t just throw out glib remarks. She listens, she weighs it up and then she says how she feels. Then I think with Steven, who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, finds it very difficult to say ‘you suck’ to anybody.”

Luckily the new judging team found a harmonious balance right out of the gate during auditions. “There isn’t a learning curve per say, because Jennifer has watched the show since its inception, so she knows it backwards. With Steven, he’s just giving his opinion. So they’re not playing roles here, they’re not playing parts. They’re being themselves and giving their opinions. So it’s really very simple to do, as long as you remain honest.”

And he hopes the contestants remain instrument free . . . mostly. “People sort of lost a little bit behind instruments. I see no reason why we won’t use guitars and pianos at least once or twice across the season, but I don’t just want them everyday behind the bloody guitar,” he said.

Lythgoe also suggested that celebrity guest judges and large-scale tribute shows may be a thing of the past. “I’m not sure I’m going to use any guest judges, to be frank,” he said. “We’ve got an entire record company behind it now with Interscope. We’ve got Jimmy Iovine and all of his producers . . . You’ve got real professionals here. I don’t know why I need anyone else. They’ll just get in the way.”