So many things are changing about American Idol this season! Like Cousin Oliver before them, could these changes spell the doom of the increasingly creaky, 8-year-old singing competition? Let's look at what's changing:

Fewer Duds!
Yes, finally Idol producers have heard the collective whine of critics and purists alike, who want to see less of the inanely be-costumed, warbling, gender-bender sad failtestants and more of the actually good singers. Plus, they're moving more folks into the semi-finals, and allowing the judges to choose three of the final twelve. Could it be because the collective selling power of the past few top Idols has been pretty lackluster? I guess the thinking is that if the judges can force through a quality few, and we get to see more top favorites earlier in the season, we'll learn to lurve them more and then buy their CDs and Clive Davis can rub his nefarious hands together and cackle ominously. Also, Fox might be trying to avoid another incident like the one where they encouraged one of Paula Abdul's myriad crazed stalkers onto the show for an audition so we could all laugh at the sad pile of lady tears and then the poor woman killed herself outside of Paula's house. They don't need another one of those!

The Real World: Fairfax
According to a TMZ excluuusive, the cameras will be following the contestants home to the little pillow fort condo dormitory they inhabit during the run of the karaoke party. OK, well that might be wishful thinking. Really they're just going to show more "behind the scenes" action, with all the nancing and weeping and hopefully kitty kat slap fights. Now that might include following them back to the house, like they did on the first season, or it might just mean some slow jam wacka-wacka makeout sessions in that weird red waiting room. This again seems like a strategy to get us more invested, so we'll buy the CD. Because the more we know about someone, the more we want to buy their shitty music.

The Fourth Hand
The true Cousin Oliver in this equation, Kara DioGuardi (some sort of songwriter) has been brought on as the fourth Idol judge. She'll join angry British female golfer Simon Cowell, Randy "King Koopa" Jackson, and ol' mushmouth behind the glassy table, where she'll sip from a big red Coke cup and bellow inane "criticism." Maybe she's there to eventually phase out the toast-smelling Paula, but that's just wild speculation. The real problem here is that there's no longer the nail-bitey tie breaker. If there are two No's on a contestant, and Paula gurgles something approximating a Yes, then Kara can only make the decision one way. She can send the unfortunate "Didn't We Almost Have It All" mangler back to the Bob Evans hostess stand from whence it came or she can... just agree with Paula. And then where the hell are we? Oh, right. We're still watching American Idol, eight flamboyantly silly seasons later.

Can't wait until January whenever, which is the premiere date!