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Last night’s two-hour episode of American Idol was one of the best ever.  The contestants sang their hearts out, and almost all of them nailed their Beatles’ songs.

What is most pleasing about this season are the new judges and the new format.  The show is now about the talented young people that put themselves out there and not about Simon Cowell’s criticism, which was often more brutal than constructive.

Steven Tyler’s praises and Jennifer Lopez’s supportive words really complement one another, and they bring out the best of Randy Jackson.  Together, the three make up a team of judges that focus on lifting up talented young people, not tearing them down.  (It must be said that Jackson has always battled for talent, often standing up to Cowell’s purposely painful attacks.  It is clear to see why he is the only remaining original judge.)

The new format of sitting down with the contestants to pick the final 24 in a respectful interview-style seat also works.  Each contestant is invited to talk, like a professional, about her experiences, goals, and dreams.  And when the American Idol dream is cut short, the judges prepare the contestant and give encouraging words.  When letting one particular contestant go, Jackson said, “But I stress and urge that you should definitely continue.”  A comment that Lopez followed with, “Use this, like so many auditions where people told me no, use this to motivate you!”  At one point, the elimination process overwhelmed Jennifer Lopez to the point where she broke down in tears.  The emotions are genuine and the feeling of loss is real.

American Idol has been great this season — some of the most amazing voices have emerged since the age requirement was lowered — but good talent only thrives in a supportive and encouraging environment.  This season, the show gets it right.

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