You can’t pay me to watch Fox’s American Idol where the singing sounds like strangled cats. But it’s been no secret that the network and the show’s producers are planning changes to reverse its declining ratings. This morning, Fox officially announced that Grammy-nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi will join Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul as a judge. But Fox sources tell me there will be “more significant things happening in the small massaging of the format itself” as the network and producers look for ways to “shore up” the ratings. That doesn’t mean the bigwgs intend to present a whole new Idol. For instance, there’s no plan to get rid of host Ryan Seacrest (darn the luck…). Instead, I’m told the powers-that-be think the early rounds where viewers watch wannabes fall on their faces have become “too repetitive”. Instead, this season will spend more time with the contestants once they arrive in Hollywood. Says my insider: “The strength of the show is that the audience wants to meet those 20 contestants. So we’ll spend more time with them.” Other changes are a result of Nigel Lythgoe stepping down as executive producer of American Idol and stepping back from the day-to-day producing. That now means the show’s music can be more updated. “At one point, we had Neil Diamond on, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dolly Parton. Nigel wanted to be old school. But the show needs younger music,” a Fox source informs.

DioGuardi’s background as an award-winning songwriter and producer should help bring an Industry perspective to critiquing the contestants when the 8th season gets underway in January. “We are turning the heat up on Idol this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges’ table,” said creator and executive producer Simon Fuller.  “She is a smart, sassy lady, and one of America’s most successful songwriters.  We know she will bring a new level of energy and excitement to the show.” Executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz claims the show “originally intended” for the U.S. version to have four judges like the international series do. Fox non-scripted guru Mike Darnell made it into a gender bender. “For the past seven seasons, Paula has had to endure the experience of being the only woman at the judges’ table. She’s been as an island of consideration and gentle criticism between Randy and Simon, offering her invaluable expertise as a performer and No. 1 artist to the thousands who have competed on American Idol.  With Kara by her side, Paula finally has some back-up and now there is going to be a lot more ‘girl power’ on the show.”

According to the press release, DioGuardi’s songs have appeared on more than 100 million records and her songs have been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Santana, Pink, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Pussycat Dolls, Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, Natasha Bedingfield, Jewel, Ashley Tisdale, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice, Clay Aiken, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, Kylie Minogue, Enrique Iglesias, Nick Lachey and Marc Anthony. Over the last four years, she has been awarded 10 BMI Pop Awards for having written the most performed songs on radio. From her catalog of several hundred songs, over 264 have been released on major labels worldwide; and over 165 have appeared on multi-platinum selling albums. DioGuardi co-owns Arthouse Entertainment, where she develops and mentors fellow hit writers, producers and artists.

According to her official Fox interview, DioGuardi says getting the gig was a shock. “My agent called me and he said you are on a short list to be the 4th judge on American Idol and I said ‘Are you calling for me or did you dial the wrong number?’ They were like, ‘No, seriously, this is going on. This can happen,’ and I was like. ‘There is no way they are going to pick me. Why wouldn’t they pick someone famous?  Someone everyone knows?’  But you know, I guess they saw something about me that they thought was good and they wanted to put somebody who was from the industry on the show and so, I got the job.”

DioGuardi had a history with the show already. She’d written songs that have been performed and released by Idols.  “I co-wrote Walk Away from Kelly Clarkson and with Kelly Clarkson.  I co-wrote the Real Thing for Bo Bice. I’ve written with Katherine McPhee and for Katherine McPhee on her record.  Clay Aiken and I co-wrote The Way.  Taylor Hicks. Oh, and I actually have a song now on the David Archuleta CD that’s coming out, I think soon.  I co-wrote with David Cook.”

She thinks she’ll bring to the show “a unique experience in the sense that I sing and was a singer and I write and I produce and I sign talent and I’m very involved in the day to day of the music industry, like Simon. So I think I’ll bring that perspective, but I’m also very opinionated and pretty feisty and not afraid of a good confrontation, so I’m looking forward to it. Bring it on.” Here’s what she’ll for in contestants: “I am gonna be looking for a unique spin, you know somebody who steps in front of me has something to say — who has a unique look; who has a great voice; a unique tone; isn’t trying to imitate everybody else that’s out there. And, has incredible self confidence because anybody who has ever really made it, steps on that stage and they own it from the minute they step out there. So I think it’s important that you know they really be themselves and that they’re interesting and that they keep me engaged.”

As for what makes an American Idol successful in the music biz, DioGuardi opines, “Well, I think there are a lot of things that go into being a successful artist. Obviously you know you have to have the right look, you have to have the right sound, but you have to have the right song.  We’ve seen that even in the Idols some of them have been very successful and some of them haven’t. It’s about that winning song. You know Since You’ve Been Gone was a huge song that catapulted Kelly into absolute stardom. So, it’s really important that everything happen at the same time — great voice, great look, great stage presence and a great song.  And all that coming together and just somebody who wants it that bad, because it’s a lot of hard work, it’s not easy.”