American Idol returns in a two-hour season premiere Tuesday night, with judge Paula Abdul alerting members of the Television Critics Association beforehand, "For the first time ever, we have too many talented males and not enough slots available to them."
Not that Abdul is taking sides. "This time around, you're going to have a tough time saying goodbye to these kids. They are that good," she gushed.
As one of the show's new wrinkles, the males will sing off against the females in a warbling war of the sexes. The age limit of 24 contestants has also been expanded, from 24 to 28 years old. The oft-criticized voting system has also been tweaked.
Even so, network executives are bracing for a dip in ratings. "I think that's only natural for a fourth-year show," FOX entertainment president Gail Berman told the TV writers.
Not that the judges are necessarily accepting Berman's prophesy. "I don't know if these two will agree with me, but I think it's better than all three seasons put together," said decision-maker Randy Jackson. "I think we're finding better and better talent every year."
Chimed in Simon Cowell, insisting that the series' second season "was the best American Idol, because it was unpredictable" but otherwise remaining objective: "I think unpredictability is the key to making great reality TV."