February 18, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s Season 10 of American Idol, but Fox’s reality staple feels brand-new thanks to the addition of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and, to a lesser extent, Jennifer Lopez. Sure, the Coke and Ford logos are still everywhere. Sure, Randy Jackson, the lone returning judge, is as repetitive as ever. And sure, eight audition episodes featuring contestants’ sob stories can grate after a while. But in a stunning departure from seasons past, the judges share a warm and unpredictable camaraderie. No Simon Cowell? No problem. At least…not yet. The real test for the newbie judges will come when the live shows begin March 1. (Remember, Ellen DeGeneres fell apart last season when it came time to criticize contestants in front of a packed Kodak Theatre.) And without editing, it’s anyone’s guess how Tyler — who’s come across so far as a lovable loose cannon — will behave. Idol executive producer Ken Warwick, for one, says he isn’t concerned. ”A live audience to this guy is like eating breakfast,” he explains. ”It doesn’t [faze him].” And if Tyler does suddenly start wailing out swear words? ”There’ll probably be a dozen guys with their fingers on buttons back at Fox, just in case Steven is inappropriate. But the truth of the matter is, that’s all part of his charm.”

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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