Here are five things to look for when ''Idol'' returns Jan. 13

By Adam B. Vary
Updated January 02, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

1. Puerto Rico fails to rock

Executive producer Ken Warwick says this year’s standout cities include Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., while the biggest disappointment was Puerto Rico. American Idol invaded the U.S. territory in an unsuccessful attempt to bring more ”Latin flavor” to the show. ”We got a couple of good kids, but that was all,” sighs Warwick. ”It was an awful long way to go for not a lot of result.”

2. The bad auditions aren’t going anywhere

Warwick is unapologetic about spending so much time showcasing human train wrecks. ”You only see the bad ones in the first three weeks,” he says. ”Some people are truly, truly deluded, and it is fascinating. It is obviously a little bit cruel, but I have to give a genuine cross-section of the people who walked through that door.”

3. Hollywood week will actually be in Hollywood ”We always tell the kids ‘You’re going to Hollywood,”’ says Warwick, ”and we take them to [the Civic Center in] Pasadena, which never made sense to me.” This year, however, the show held the Hollywood stage of the auditions (which will air over two weeks instead of one) in Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars — and five previous Idol finales.

4. No top 24 this season. Prepare for the top 36!

In an effort to, as Warwick says, ”shake things up,” the semifinalist stage will expand from 24 to 36 contestants, and unfold much like the first three seasons of Idol: The semifinalists will be split into three groups, and each contestant will get just one chance to perform. The top male and female crooner, along with the singer with the next-highest vote count, will advance to the top 12, and the judges will choose the final three in a wild-card round. And you can forget semifinal theme nights: Warwick’s plan is to have the top 36 only sing tracks that have landed on the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 list between 1958 and today.

5. We may finally see some mentors under 30

Warwick is quite aware that many of the mentors from previous years — Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Lulu — have been slightly less than contemporary. ”It’s a wish list at the moment,” he says, ”[but] I’m trying to get [mentors] a little younger. I only like mentors who’ve had a string of hits and actually have something of value to pass on. There are some kids — they’re not kids, they’re 24, 25 — that I’m going after [to be mentors].”