american-idol-logo_web.jpgAP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES – When a husky, mustached auditioner awkwardly snaps his way through Billy Joel's The Longest Time in front of Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, something totally out of the ordinary happens: They don't make fun of him.
Instead, the new American Idol judging team encourages him to become a disc jockey instead of a singer.

It seems the essence of Simon Cowell has been exorcised from the 10th season of Idol. If clips of the first series of auditions are any indication, Tyler and Lopez will be hugging and kissing more Idol wannabes in their inaugural season than Cowell ever did in his nine nasty years on the Fox singing competition.

"I think with every artist, and Jennifer and Steven are legendary artists, you have a lot of warmth and a lot of
nurturing,'' said Jackson, the lone original judge remaining on the panel. "That's what happens. We've seen it in other seasons when we've had artists come in and mentor the singers. They really love on these kids, and I think that's good.''

It's not the first time Idol has injected such niceness into its permanent judging panel. One year ago, viewers were preparing for chipper talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who acknowledged she had no music industry experience, to take a seat behind the table. She left after one season because she said it was hard to judge people and hurt their feelings.

The departures of DeGeneres, Cowell and two-term judge Kara DioGuardi have paved the way for a new kind of Idol, one that will either bounce back from a ratings slump or slip farther away from the top spot. American viewers have never known an Idol that doesn't feature Cowell's rolling eyes, one-liners or antagonistic adjectives. Will they embrace it?

"We're certainly back to having fun,'' said executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who rejoined the singing competition after a two-year hiatus. "At some point along the way, and we're certainly all guilty of it, we started taking ourselves too seriously.

I know the ratings are a serious game, but as far as I'm concerned, my job and their job is to generate fun.''