Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

Despite finishing as television’s top-rated show for the umpteenth consecutive time last season, Fox’s American Idol appears to be hearing the footsteps of its NBC singing competition competitor The Voice. The judges, host Ryan Seacrest, producers and Fox reality chief Mike Darnell appeared unusually defensive when NBC’s surprisingly successful series was raised during the TCA Idol session — particularly after it was mentioned that first Idol winner Kelly Clarkson had signed on to become a mentor on The Voice‘s upcoming second season. “It’s a compliment to Idol that other shows want to use our superstars,” Darnell said. “I mean, we’re not hiring a lot of people from The Voice to be on our show. … Our show is the gold standard. We can’t concern ourselves with that they do.” Also brought up were comments made by Voice coaches and executive producer Mark Burnett on NBC’s  Friday panel that, unlike others, The Voice takes the high road and doesn’t ridicule contestants with little talent. “We can never get too tied up in what everyone else is doing or saying,” Idol executive producer Ken Warwick said. “This is the show that produces the stars.” Exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz then joined the fray, noting that “(The Voice) casts their show. … We have an open call. It’s very very different.” Randy Jackson’s barbs were the harshest. “I think Idol is still the best show of its kind anywhere. We’re the original. We kind of invented this whole game everyone is now copying.” Referring to the fact that The Voice Season 1 winner Javier Colon had had a failed recording contract with Capitol Records before going on the show, Jackson said of the NBC show, “It was almost like second-chance people; it wasn’t some new artist.” And his biggest zinger — “We won’t rip off a show like The Voice did Star Trek with their spinning chairs (segment).” After the panel, Darnell said he wasn’t surprised by everyone’s edginess when discussing The Voice. “I think that’s just everyone’s competitive nature coming out. If they weren’t touchy, I’d worry about them.”

During the Q&A, Warwick stressed that the center portion of the coming season will, as it did last year, change up the stakes and the format to keep things fresh and the contestants off-balance. “This year, we took the kids out of their comfort zone,” he said. “They had to sing late 1950s American Grafitti-style with a song in a group. Then in the next round it’s back to one voice and one instrument. It’s all just part of the same reinvention of the middle rounds we did last year, and will continue to do each year going forward.”

With The Voice expanding to two nights from the get-go in Season 2, going head-to-head with Idol, wouldn’t four singing reality shows a week be too much for even the most devoted fans? “I don’t actually have an answer for that,” Darnell said after the session. “I think maybe that would have been different 15 years ago when there was no way to DVR a show or find it on the Internet. But if you love these shows you love these shows.” He’s also not concerned that Fox Entertaiment chief Kevin Reilly earlier today predicted a ratings drop for Idol given its age. “We’ve been predicting drops on Idol every year for the last six years because that’s the nature of television…As far as I’m concerned, American Idol is going to be the number one show for a really long time.”