By Lynette Rice
Updated September 22, 2010 at 07:29 PM EDT
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Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox“This is certainly under the radar,” Ryan Seacrest quipped as he announced in front of thousands of screaming wanna-be singers at the Los Angeles auditions today that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will join Randy Jackson on the American Idol panel. Fox treated the unveiling at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. as if it wasn’t the worst-kept secret in Hollywood; Lopez, in particular, was unveiled like a veritable demi-God by appearing on a raised platform amid a cloud of smoke. Truly, the only surprising news to come out of today’s announcement was that Jackson will be the new “anchor of the panel.” (Okay, J. Lo’s sparkly jumpsuit was kinda surprising, too.)

The new judges seemed as happy as if they just won the lottery. Joined on a dais with executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, along with Seacrest, Jackson, Fox reality exec Mike Darnell and record executive Jimmy Iovine, Tyler and Lopez admitted to being longtime fans of the 10-year-old talent show. “I always loved watching the outcome on Idol, the kids crying and screaming,” said the Aerosmith frontman. “It resonates with my career and where it now.”

“I’m a huge fan,” added Lopez. “I kind of raised my eyebrows [when I was first approached about the gig], but my career has always been the type that changes and evolves.”

In addition to joining the show, Lopez was also rewarded a first-look deal with Fox Films and Fox Broadcasting Co. The singer-actress brushed off reports that her “diva demands” caused delays in the finalization of her Idol deal. “I’m kind of used to the [negative press],” Lopez said. “After as many years as I’ve been doing this, I’m used to it. I was calming the Fox people down, telling them ‘It will be gone tomorrow. It’s going to be fine! We know what the truth!’ I was looking forward to getting started.”

“There was so much rubbish out there,” said Lythgoe. “We heard she only liked yellow M & Ms! There are so many stories.” Fox’s Darnell also chimed in: “The deal was not tough. There were no diva demands. It was easy and comfortable. It was all about schedule and dates! They were typical deals, to be frank.”

Tyler, meanwhile, faced some troubling times with his fellow band members when the press began speculating that he was in the running for a seat at the judges’ table. “At first, they were jealous,” said the singer. “They heard it through the press and not from me. But four months ago they were looking for another lead singer. I spent a stint in Betty Ford. They have been judging me every day, and sometimes it hurt, but most times I came out through the worm hole a stronger person. It’s a real journey with those guys. And they would say the same about me. I’m sure they are real happy for me.”

First and foremost: Don’t expect anyone on the new panel to assume the role of King Crankypants, left vacant by Simon Cowell. “I don’t know whether there will be a replacement,” Jackson said. “We all have our moments of toughness and nurturing and sweetness.”

“I believe in tough love but I don’t think I can ever be cruel to another artist,” added Lopez. “There are definitely better ways to say things.”

Lythgoe also promised some changes in the new season. Contestants won’t be asked to step out of their comfort zones: Country singers, for example, will get to stick with what they do best. The participants will also perform songs from certain decades, not from particular artists (so long, Elvis night!). “We are looking to bring artists along and really give them some input,” said Iovine, who will serve as a mentor. “We’re looking for originality. We are not looking for singers like Whitney Houston, but those who were influenced by Whitney Houston and bring their own stuff to the game. They can’t just be told to sing better, someone has to work with them on performance and style.”

Lythgoe also left open the possibility of guest judges joining the panel (Elton John, now’s your chance!). “We have three we are happy with,” he said, “but we’re always open to anybody else if they want to come along and we feel they add to this.” The EP also admitted that he’s glad the endless speculation about about Idol‘s new judging panel is finally over. “I don’t want the judges worrying about ratings. They have to worry about the talent. Thank goodness this happened today so we can put the focus back on the kids. What we’ve got to worry about is moving forward, not about Simon not being here. We have a great legacy from the past, but now we have to talk about the future.”

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