Nashville: The 10th season of ‘American Idol’ is under way in Nashville, and despite the long lines and big dreams of wannabe contestants, there`s no denying that something`s missing.
"`Idol`s` going to be different this year first and foremost because (judge) Simon Cowell`s not here," supervising producer Patrick Lynn said in an interview. "But secondly, this is our 10th season, we`re going into it, and we`re really this year are making it about the contestant. It`s all about them, and let me tell you, Nashville, the crowd here does not disappoint."
People began lining up for wristbands outside Nashville`s Bridgestone Arena early Thursday morning. By 9 a.m, Lynn estimated there were upward of 10,000 people waiting in the nearly 90-degree heat.
Contestants are mixed on Cowell`s departure from the show. Some are relieved they won`t have to face him; others wish they could get his critique.
Jayson Kim, 22, from Springfield, Missouri, smiled when Cowell`s name came up.
"I`m kind of glad," said Kim of the fact that he wouldn`t have to face Cowell in the audition. "He could be mean, and I don`t like mean people. So, I`m glad."
Maurice Buchanan, a 28-year-old Christian music singer from Nashville, initially said it was "wonderful" that he would escape Cowell`s assessment but then backtracked a little when he thought of Cowell`s celebrity.
"I actually wanted to meet Simon," said Buchanan.
Survival instincts kicking in, he reverted back to his original feeling: "But I believe that it`s good, that I can actually impress someone else."
Brett Hunter, a 16-year-old student from Hendersonville, Tenn., defended Cowell`s role on the show.
"There`s a difference between being mean and being honest, and he always had the honest thing to say," argued Hunter.
Fifteen-year-old Christy Barger from Loretta, Tenn., said Cowell was her favorite.
"He made the show funny," she said.
Last year, Barger would`ve been turned away from auditions because the minimum age was 16. However, producers changed the rules this year to allow 15-year-olds. Lynn said the decision came from a perfect storm of having to turn away talented young people from auditions and the phenomenon of Bieber-fever.
"We have a whole new generation of people that has sort of grown up with `Idol,`" he said. "We noticed a lot of young people coming out, and then Justin Bieber came along and kind of confirmed all that. So it`s kind of hand in hand."
Bieber blasted onto the scene with his 2009 hit ‘One Time’ at age 15.
Even though 19-year-old college student Casey Wright from Moorehead, Ky., wasn`t affected by the rule change, she believes it was a great idea.
"I say give as many people as you can a chance," she said.
Her 16-year-old sister Corey Wright thought so, too.
"Everyone, no matter what the age, can have a good voice. Let it show," she said.
"Idol`s" ratings have slipped in recent years. Over 24 million viewers tuned in for the finale in May according to Nielsen Co, down nearly 5 million viewers the previous year.
That reality, combined with Cowell`s departure is giving producers something to think about.
"We`re trying to look at the show with fresh eyes this year, to kind of say, `What`s been our biggest successes` and really kind of focus on those," said Lynn. "I think it really comes down to the people behind me in line. That`s what the success of the show relies upon and that`s what the show is."
Wristbands will be handed out again Friday in Nashville, with auditions beginning Saturday.