Pop Culture

Ryan Seacrest: 'American Idol' still focuses on humor, heart and contestants

The pre-season buzz may have some "American Idol" fans expecting a revamped talent show that focuses more on the panel than on the hopefuls looking for their big break. Only time will tell who really steals the show, but according to host Ryan Seacrest, the sometimes hair-raising, sometimes heartwarming contestants are still central to it all.

"You know, this season is full of humor, heart, hair … a lot of hair extensions," he said during a Wednesday morning visit to TODAY. "But there are some great stories with these contestants. Some are just incredible.  There's a young man that you'll meet (Thursday) night in the Chicago episode named Lazaro (Arbos), and he grew up with a stuttering problem. He didn't have any friends because of it, so he turned to music as an escape. And when he came into the audition room, everything changed. He had a difficult time talking to the judges, but the second he started to sing, it all changed."

(See that change in the video above, as Arbos takes on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water.")

There are bound to be more sentimental moments like that when "Idol" returns, along with the requisite earsplitting auditions and of course, the rare glimpse of future stars.

"The premise is that this show is about the contestants," Seacrest assured. "It's about that young person that's got a dream to become a singing superstar. And our show delivers on that promise when you look at Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Phillip Phillips -- the latest winner, he's got a number one song right now."

But he admitted, "This season, I think you're going to see headlines about the contestants and the judges as well."

Because while the judges might not be the ultimate stars of the show, they know a thing or two about getting headlines. And as for the two who've grabbed the most headlines leading into the season -- Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj -- viewers won't have to wait long to see the sparks fly.

"Just before (the premiere audition), there was a bit of difference of opinion between Nicki and Mariah on the elevator ride up to our first day of shooting."

Get ready for all the action. "American Idol's" two-night premiere kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

What are you most looking forward to seeing on the premiere -- the bad auditions, the good singers, the judges? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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