As 'Idol' Surges, New Judges Tune Up Their Feedback American Idol is enjoying renewed interest and better singers this season than last. But it's still early. Can the new judging panel keep finding fresh ways to compliment the impressive slate of singers?

As 'Idol' Surges, New Judges Tune Up Their Feedback

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And the show goes on at "American Idol," despite the loss of its biggest star, judge Simon Cowell. It stayed at the top of TV ratings, with some 25 million viewers watching last week. Back in January, when the new season started, "Idol's" continued success was not a given, and critic Eric Deggans is going to be watching carefully when the finalists perform tomorrow.

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MONTAGNE: This is "American Idol."

ERIC DEGGANS: Fans know "American Idol's" big performance shows are where the rubber meets the road - for the singers and the judges.

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DEGGANS: It's where beloved comic Ellen DeGeneres crashed and burned last year, uncomfortable as a critic and uneasy around her fellow judges. Producers responded this year with an aggressive reboot. They deployed the glamour of Jennifer Lopez,and the mojo of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler.

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MONTAGNE: Casey Abrams, man, you are in-your-mind good and out-of-your-mind unreal.

DEGGANS: Tyler, in particular, has become "Idol's" new goofy mascot.

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MONTAGNE: Lauren, that was spectacular. It's like Lauren Turner meets Lauren Turner. That's what it sounded like to me.

DEGGANS: He often lights up the screen with a much-needed shot of unpredictable fun, without any of the brittle dysfunction of former judge Paula Abdul. Listen to him disagree with veteran judge Randy Jackson, as they quibble over one singer's version of Alicia Keys' song, "Falling."

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MONTAGNE: Steven?

MONTAGNE: You know what, man? I didn't hear that at all. I heard just the right amount of style, just the right amount of sexy. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

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MONTAGNE: What? What?

DEGGANS: It's also obvious "Idol's" new crop of singers is better. It's an unexpected challenge for judges, who struggle for new ways to say, you done good. Pop diva Jennifer Lopez must really believe the best singing comes from inside, because she tells that to most every contestant, in one way or another.

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MONTAGNE: It's just natural. It's good, and you're born to sing country music. Every move you make comes from something inside, but you do it so naturally. It's insane.

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DEGGANS: Even Tyler can sound a bit repetitive on that score.

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MONTAGNE: That's a beautiful thing.

U: Thank you, babe.

MONTAGNE: We found one. That was beautiful, you did it. That was a beautiful thing, Robbie.

MONTAGNE: Thank you so much.

DEGGANS: But to be fair, sometimes Randy Jackson says the same things because the singers keep making the same mistakes. His pet peeve: singing a song without bringing anything new. He scolded Jordan Dorsey for aping Usher.

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MONTAGNE: If you're going to sing anybody else's song, you have to bring something to it that is different.

DEGGANS: Then he dinged Tim Halperin for channeling Rob Thomas.

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MONTAGNE: I mean, you didn't - once again - bring anything different or exciting or new to it.

DEGGANS: And Julie Zorrilla, she got served for her thin copy of "Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson.

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MONTAGNE: I love that song but once again, you didn't bring anything different or new to it.

DEGGANS: Last week's results were a troubling sign. Rod Stewart clone Paul McDonald and fuzzy-faced Casey Abrams beat out better male voices. And it didn't hurt that they got a lot of compliments from the judges for their appeal to the ladies.

DEGGANS: "American Idol" has saved itself from the dustbin of TV history. Now, all the judges have to do is find a new way to say it.

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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