“We listened to the viewers and they told us they’re fed upTCADeadline__140109155905 with the middle rounds after Hollywood Week and before the live shows, so we’ve shortened all of that down, condensed the middle round into one week – we’re calling it Rush Week,” American Idol exec producer Trish Kinane told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.

idoltcaThey’ve also added something called The Chamber, where Idolettes go after host Ryan Seacrest tells them that in a couple minutes they’ve got to “give it their all,” Kinane explained, where we’ll see them pray, sing, check their armpits for sweat — whatever. “It’s a very intimate moment,” she told critics.

“We didn’t want to do anything radical,” Kinane said of the many changes in store for this year’s competition. “The original format really works,”  she said. But “we went back and examined every single element of the show, from the talent search right through to the finale,” she said. The end result? “It’s still absolutely American Idol. But it’s a million tiny decisions and little refreshments that make a fresher whole.”

Fox and the producers are tinkering because the show last season suffered a second consecutive 20% dive in overall audience, as viewers fled the caterwauling and antics of judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. The singing competition also lost the demo to NBC’s The Voice for the first time. In response, judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey both discovered their schedules were too busy to return for another season, Jennifer Lopez returned after one season off, new judge Harry Connick Jr. was brought in, Keith Urban became last season’s sole survivor and Randy Jackson was moved over to the mentor slot.

Jackson will be featured heavily during Rush Week. “It’s a new part of the show not done before, a sort of Randy Jackson workshop,” Kinane explained. “Randy is going to be hosting a two day workshop in which the kids who got through will be taught things like how to choose a song, what’s your style, how do you want to look…how to look after their voice.”

But ultimately, TV critics wanted to talk about last year’s train wreck and this year’s judge panel, for what’s being  billed as a kind of Kumbaya Year for the show. Urban got asked if sitting between Minaj and Carey was as uncomfortable as it seemed to be, watching at home. “No, Ryan and I worked it out.” “We’re good,” added Seacrest, rounding out the well-rehearsed-here’s-how-we’ll-handle-The-Question moment.

One critic noted Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly confessed earlier in the day that he wished The Voice would “go away,” and asked them to ruminate as to why that show is now more popular, etc. Connick jumped in and said that when he went on his honeymoon, there other honeymooning couples at the hotel, but, “I promise I didn’t look and wonder how they were so happy and how we were going to stack up against them. I married the woman of my dreams, and I didn’t see another couple,” he told critics, thoroughly stumping them. “It’s a blast. It’s so much fun. It’s the only thing I’m thinking about,” he continued, throwing in for good measure, “Yeah man! We’ve got to keep it real!”

In an August phone call with investors after the company released its Q4 results, NewsCorp CFO John Nallen said, “It’s a fact that Idol did not deliver as we hoped,” and discussed the effect the veteran reality series’ last season had on ad revenues. “We’ve made some steps and put new leadership directly in place,” he said of the addition of David Hill to oversee the show, and X-Factor, after the departure of alternative programming president Mike Darnell. “It’s still a profitable show and still a Top 5 show and we think there is an opportunity to reamortize that. But there’s no question that Idol affected our broadcast business.”

American Idol debuts with a two-night, four-hour premiere Wednesday, January 15 and Thursday, January 16.