When the nation's favorite TV addiction debuted 10 years ago, critics complained the judges were too mean to the hordes of would-be singers seeking celebrity.
But after pop icons Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler became judges last year, some fans complained the show had lost its bite. "American Idol," critics complained, had become too nice.
Now in its 11th season, the Fox show that spawned a dozen pop stars and copycat talent competitions is hoping to get it just right.
With the second post-Simon Cowell season under way, Lopez and Tyler said they are striking a balance between showing compassion and respect for their fellow artists, while also not mincing their words.
"Last year was kind of our first year and we were kind of finding our way and figuring out how we were going to do things," Lopez said during a press conference in between filming the show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, hours before the Season 11 premiere. "But I just think we are more to the point now. We understand how to do it."
Tyler joked that he was peppering his encouragement with "well-rounded, slanderous attacks."
Tyler and Lopez's still-evolving shtick will likely determine whether "Idol" can match its previous successes. In an era of social networking, where YouTube videos result in record contracts, does America still want pop stars invented by a TV show?
All signs say yes.
It's been a decade since Texas native Kelly Clarkson was plucked from obscurity and turned into the nation's first American Idol in 2002 and by all accounts the show has retained its dominance over the nation's TV viewers.
Lopez and Tyler's debut year saw the show maintain its spot as the nation's most-watched TV show, making it No. 1 for the eighth-straight season. Scotty McCreery, last season's winner, became the first "Idol" to start his post-show career with a No. 1 album since Ruben Studdard in 2003.
No major changes have been announced for the show's 11th season. The season is opening with taped audition episodes before it shifts to live shows in Los Angeles that include audience voting. The show's season premier Wednesday was to focus on Savannah, Ga., before continuing in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Veteran music producer Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M, is returning as the in-house mentor for the contestants. Finalists will once again compete midway through the competition on the Las Vegas Strip, where 42 contestants practiced singing Wednesday morning.
Tyler said soul music has emerged has this season's genre of choice, with many of the contestants looking to channel chart-topper and British soul diva Adele.
The season could mark Ryan Seacrest's last year hosting the show. He has said he would like to stay on as the show's host past 2012, but his contract ends this year. There have been several reports that Seacrest could replace Matt Lauer, should he decide to leave the "Today" show on NBC.
Season 11 opens in a different era from when the show launched in 2002. Then, former judge Cowell helped turn the competition into a national phenomenon with his harsh feedback for the show's less-than-stellar contestants. It was the only singing competition of its kind at the time.
But last year Lopez, Tyler and lone original judge Randy Jackson seemed reluctant to point out contestants' shortcomings in the same blunt manner that helped make "Idol" must-see entertainment.
The TV landscape has also changed. "Idol" now faces challenges from NBC's competition "The Voice," and Fox's "The X Factor," which stars Cowell.
The show has helped launched the careers of pop stars Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood.