Fallen ‘Idol’? Not So Fast.

Finally, the race is on. Not for the White House —we mean for "American Idol," which returns on Jan. 15. How will the country's biggest show fare during the writers' strike? And did "Idol" fix last season's low notes? (So long, Sanjaya.) Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe spoke to Ramin Setoodeh.

How will the Writers Guild of America strike affect the new season of "Idol"?
Everyone says it's going to be much bigger because of the strike. But my gut feeling is that people are going to say, "I'm not going to watch TV." A lot of TV executives are so small-minded, and they think people will watch any old crap they put on. Well, they won't.

Are you auditioning the contestants any differently?
For the first time, we allowed them to play instruments. We had one drummer sing "Hooked on a Feeling." I think our big mistake last year was that we didn't let the public get to know the contestants as we should have.

Is there a new Sanjaya?
Somebody who will steal the limelight because of their hair? I don't think so.

Last season drew a lot of complaints for its meanness. Have you scaled back on that?
There's a little cruel streak in all of us. If Simon Cowell is bored, he'll yawn. But he's not doing it for the camera. It's because he's such an a––hole.