By John Young
Updated February 28, 2011 at 02:00 PM EST
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Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Now that we have our Top 24 singers, American Idol finally kicks into full gear on Tuesday, as the Top 12 Guys perform, and America gets to weigh in for the first time and vote for its favorite singers. But the show won’t be live; the show actually taped last Friday, and EW was on the scene in the redesigned Idoldome to take in the whole spectacle. We’ll have a detailed on-the-scene report early Wednesday morning, but there are a few brief things we can reveal right now about the new stage, how many contestants America will be picking this round, and a welcome update on the swaybot pits. While we will not be spoiling any of the show itself, those who want to be completely surprised, do not read on and watch this instead.

THE SET: It’s been completely redesigned for Season 10. While it’s unclear how it’ll play on TV, from inside, it’s got a much more intimate vibe. The audience seating has been pushed closer to the stage, and even the last rows are only 20 feet or so away from the judges’ table. Jay, the guy hired to warm up the audience, described the set as “stadium seating in 360 degrees,” and that’s an apt way to put it. Audience members are now also sitting above the stage, where the band used to be stationed. (The band now resides stage right.) However, while this new section of the audience will be on TV throughout the show, they ironically cannot see what’s happening down on the stage below. So the Idol crew installed a giant screen on the other side of the set so that these audience members can actually watch American Idol while attending American Idol.

What else? The (estimated) 593 monitors that used to populate the set have disappeared. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the sway-bot pits are gone. That’s right: Everyone is sitting in chairs.

THE VOTING: This round, America will get to determine their Top 10 finalists (out of the 24 contestants), and the judges will add their “wild-card picks.” The exact number of wild cards the judges will select wasn’t mentioned. Also, for the first time, you can vote online this season.

WHO’S IN CHARGE: Debbie Williams, Idol‘s stage manager since Season 1, seemed as in command of the Idoldome as ever. But also making himself known was exec producer Nigel Lythgoe, who conferred with the judges in between takes and even relayed instructions to the audience from time to time.

THE TALENT: Despite the renovated set, new judges, and expanded voting process, the most notable change this season is the singers themselves. These guys are much better than last year’s crop. Sorry, Lee DeWyze, but you wouldn’t have stood a chance.

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