The 11th season of American Idol premieres on Saturday. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, along with the show’s three judges, Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, and executive producer Ken Warwick, took to the stage at the 2012 Television Critics Association to talk about America’s No 1 show, but spent most of the time defending the series’ position against a competing network and its ratings upstart, The Voice.

American Idol is the gold standard,” Mike Darnell, the Fox president of alternative entertainment, declared. “It’s a phenomenon. Let’s not forget that last year we all sat here and a lot of the scrutiny was suspicious that we couldn’t come back with this type of a show and it came roaring back. This is the show the audience loves.”

Of course, a year ago American Idol had the singing competition show playing field pretty much to itself, but now with X Factor having launched and The Voice hot on American Idols heels, it’s a vastly different television landscape. So much so that one journalist even asked Ryan if he would consider jumping ship and replacing Carson Daly on The Voice.

Kelly Clarkson, Idol’s first ever winner, will even appear on The Voice as a mentor. “It’s a compliment to Idol that this show is creating superstars,” said Mike, “but we’re not hiring anyone from The Voice to be on our show.”

After the panel, Mike told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re not worried (about The Voice). We’re having fun. I’d call it healthy competition.”

This echoed a sentiment uttered earlier by Ryan, when he told a journalist, “We have never sat down before a show and said, ‘How are we going to react to another show?’” Randy added: “We will definitely never ever rip off Star Trek like The Voice did with spinning chairs.”

So what can viewers expect of the new season? Apart from Ryan’s hair being a little longer, more of the same. “It hasn’t changed, we’re all the same people,” said Jennifer. “We’re a little bit more comfortable, we’re still having fun.” Randy joked that Jennifer was handing out “a lot more numbers”, but not just for the sake of rejection. “We’ve got our eyes on the ones that have that magic that we see in either ourselves or other people through the course of our careers. We see that in these kids,” said Steven.

“The judges should always call it as they see it, not as people want them to call it,” said Randy. “What I love about the show is that this is the most authentic talent show.”

“We try to give them advice as we would want it to be given to us. I want them to hear me, but there’s nothing wrong with a little tough love and a little encouragement either,” said Jennifer.

“And we have our own style of how we do that.”

As for what might be different this year? The post-Hollywood round, for one. Ken Warwick revealed that because so many contestants were put through, they’ll be weeded out via group numbers where they’re challenged to sing a traditional late ’50s song and then again with a solo number. “We took them out of their comfort zone – they had to sing a song that’s nothing like what you’d find on radio today…”

Indeed, the show returned to Las Vegas this year, but rather than Cirque du Soleil’s Love, the Michael Jackson Immortal show may be the backdrop. Idol Gives Back, Mike said, would not be returning this season, though it remains an active charity. – The Hollywood Reporter.

l Catch American Idol on M-Net at 6pm from Saturday, January 28.