They may not admit it in public, but many associated with last season's American Idol know it missed its mark.
The low sales figures of Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks' debut albums prove as much. But as the show's judges graces this week's TV Guide, that publication lists a few reasons why this season will be a marked improvement:
"Last year just wasn't good enough," Simon Cowell says bluntly. Even perpetually positive judge Paula Abdul was underwhelmed: "I don't remember hardly anyone [from] last year."
It's not that Season 6 didn't have a vocal powerhouse or two: Melinda Doolittle and Sparks could belt with the best of 'em. But they failed to capture the public's imagination like past Idols â€” and subsequent chart-toppers â€” Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry.
"Even though we had talented kids," sums up executive producer Ken Warwick, "there was not quite the buzz or magic [of previous seasons]."
Fortunately, someone seems to have sprinkled pixie dust over Season 7, as Randy Jackson explains: "It's not, 'Let me do what the judges want or what I think the public wants because I wanna be like Justin Timberlake or Mariah.' These kids have a lot of individuality."
2. America has not yet exhausted its supply of tone-deaf wannabes.
Season 7, despite all its "brilliant" talent, also promises its fair share of the shockingly bad. How could it not?
"Every year you think you've seen it all â€” the funniest, the daftest, the craziest, the worst," Warwick says. "And every year, that door opens and in comes somebody who's funnier, crazier and worse."
Ryan Seacrest insists American Idol ambition is frighteningly real â€” and he's got the battle scars to prove it. "One girl was a female wrestler," he recalls, wincing. "She was about four times my size. I asked her to show me a move, and she literally knocked me down to the ground. I had some big bruises from that."
Witness this exchange. Abdul: "I'm the nurturing mom who breast-feeds these kids; Simon's the disapproving dad. They come off the nipple and never say, 'Thank you.' They go, 'Daddy, please pat me on the back.'"
Cowell: "Paula's possibly more out of touch than she's ever been in her life."
Such chemistry, of course, makes for some of Idol's most watercooler-worthy moments. It also made for a rollickingly rambunctious time on the road. In Miami, Jackson took to the DJ booth when the judges and Seacrest went clubbing together.
In Philadelphia, a luxury-car dealership lent the boys a fleet of cars, including an Aston Martin and Lamborghini. Abdul, feeling a little left out, retaliated with some wicked pranks.
"I short-sheeted their beds," she reports proudly. "I hid in their closets with my camera phone. And once, I made sure Simon got a hotel room [so small] the door hit the bed."