By Michael Slezak
Updated June 21, 2010 at 04:23 PM EDT

Image Credit: Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images; Janet Mayer/PR Photos; Michael Becker/FoxOh Em Gee, you guys! I am so excited about Fox’s new reality show, The Search for the Next Justin Bieber, which is set to premiere January 2011. Contestants will be judged in four categories: Awesomeness of Voice; Floppiness of Hair; Dreaminess of Smile; and Ability to Induce Scrawling of Name All Over Trapper Keeper. And the good news is, there won’t be any need for pesky phone- or text-voting: Instead, an army of tweens will be employed to squeal approval after every performance. The boy who receives the lowest-decibel response each week will have his luscious locks shorn on stage by Ryan Seacrest, then be sent back to freshman algebra class 4-Eva.

Okay, okay…I’ll reel in the sarcasm for a second and give you the real scoop: American Idol has lowered its minimum contestant age from 16 to 15 for its upcoming tenth season. “A lot of young, talented people are now seeking careers and representation before they turn 16. Lowering the age limit allows us to tap into this talent pool,” said Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Idol‘s executive producer, in a press release announcing the kick-off date for season 10 auditions (see below).

With all due respect to Allison Iraheta and David Archuleta, I think this is a horrible misstep on the part of Frot-Coutaz & Co. In fact, if I ran the show, I’d increase the minimum age requirement to 18. Think about it: If recent seasons of Idol have taught us anything, it’s that the show’s audience now has a hunger for well-rounded contestants with a strong sense of self and clearly identified thoughts on the artists they want to be. Better still if these singers possess the ability to play an instrument and/or dramatically rearrange a song.

And yet the show’s producers seem to think they know better than their viewers: “You don’t want a Kris Allen or an Adam Lambert, a Lee DeWyze or a Crystal Bowersox! You want an Aaron Kelly or a Katie Stevens or some other blandly competent little singer who looks like he or she was fast-forwarded from the set of 2003’s failed American Juniors! You want someone who can be molded and manipulated like modeling clay in Kara DioGuardi’s hands! In fact, maybe you’d like something along the lines of 1992’s horrifying toddler-pop act Jordy — he of ‘Dur dur d’être bébé! (It’s Tough to Be a Baby)‘ fame. Yes, yes! Younger, younger, cuter, and cuddlier! Hear those cash-registers ringing?”

Brace yourselves for critiques like: “Have you tried country, young man? Let’s get you a 10-gallon hat and press the ‘light-twang’ button and see how that works out!” And prepare yourselves for a rendition of “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by a wide-eyed young girl thinking about her puppy that ran away back in the sixth grade.

Then again, maybe I’m just getting too old to understand what the people want. So people, tell me, is American Idol doing the right thing by lowering its minimum age requirement? Sound off in our poll below, then check out the audition dates and locations for season 10. Gotta wonder if the show will name a replacement for Simon Cowell and/or the full roster of season 10 judges by the time the newest crop of wannabes starts lining up in Nashville. (Not to worry, I am already pestering the show’s reps for some scoop!)

July 17: Nashville, TN; Bridgestone Arena

July 21: Milwaukee, WI; Bradley Center

July 26: New Orleans; TBA

Aug. 3: East Rutherford, NJ; IZOD Center

Aug. 11: Austin, TX; Frank Erwin Center

Aug. 19: San Francisco, CA; AT&T Park