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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "American Idol" returns to television next week not only with two new celebrity judges, but a whole new attitude -- less of the cutting put-downs and more support and coaching for aspiring new pop stars, producers said on Tuesday.
The exit of caustic British judge Simon Cowell, and the addition of singer Jennifer Lopez and rock star Steven Tyler has shaken up the dynamics of the top-rated TV singing contest, and placed the emphasis squarely on encouraging original talent, they said.
Gone are the old "nasty and nice" roles once seen from judges, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe told TV journalists.
"It's about giving the right information to (the contestants) so they continue on their journey as an artist. It is a lot more about searching for that eventual winner, than stopping people getting there.
"In the past, we may have been accused of putting barriers up against them or making glib remarks, rather than trying to help them through the whole process," Lythgoe said.
"American Idol", the most-watched TV show in the United States for six years, has undergone big changes as it enters its 10th season in a bid to reverse sliding viewership and find talent equal to early winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, who went on to Grammy-winning careers.
Record producer Jimmy Iovine will act as in-house mentor and contestants will get the chance for the first time to perform songs they have written themselves.
Lythgoe said the changes were aimed at ensuring that the contestants go into the competition "with confidence and pride in themselves."
Lopez, Aerosmith frontman Tyler, and original judge Randy Jackson said they would be honest with hopeless singers.
But Lopez, a successful singer and actress in her own right, said "there is nothing like having that discussion with another artist to help you grow.
"We are not here to break people down, but to help them move through it," she added.
Iovine will coach the contestants, help them pick songs and work with top record producers during the contest.
"My job is to help make sure we find an original voice, rather than someone who is singing like someone else. In the past, they weren't really getting a lot of help improving," he said.
"American Idol" has been a ratings juggernaut, and a huge generator of advertising revenue for Fox, and it has spawned record sales and digital downloads of songs by the finalists.
But the show has lost about six million viewers in the past four years and the 2010 finale drew the lowest audience since 2002, attracting 24.2 million people. Recent winners Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze saw dismal sales for their debut albums
The show this year has a new record label, Universal Music, and moves to a new slot on Wednesdays and Thursdays, starting Jan 19.
"American Idol" is produced by 19 Entertainment, a unit of CKX Inc, and by London-based FremantleMedia, a unit of Bertelsmann AG-controlled broadcaster RTL Group. Fox is a unit of News Corp.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte