LAS VEGAS (AP) - It's been a decade since Texas native Kelly Clarkson was plucked from obscurity and turned into the nation's first American Idol.
Now the TV show that has spawned dozens of other pop stars and talent competitions is opening its 11th season tonight (Wednesday) under a cloud of uncertainty.
Is this Ryan Seacrest's last year hosting the nation's most popular show?
Will fans return after new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler embraced flattery over criticism during their debut season last year?
Does America still want pop stars invented by a TV show?
The return of the superstar competition will provide some, but not all of the answers fans want to know as "American Idol" heads into its second post-Simon Cowell season.
Lopez and Tyler were brought on to revamp the show last year after Cowell's departure. Despite the shake-up "Idol" maintained its spot as the nation's most-watched TV show, making it No. 1 for the eighth-straight season.
But some critics complained that the new format lacked bite. Lopez, Tyler and lone original judge Randy Jackson seemed reluctant to point out contestants' shortcomings last year in the same blunt manner that helped make "Idol" must-see entertainment.
No major changes have been announced for the show's 11th season. Finalists will once again compete in Las Vegas midway through the competition. Veteran music producer Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M, will return as the in-house mentor for the contestants.
Seacrest has said he would like to stay on as the show's host past 2012. 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.
Seacrest, Lopez, Tyler and Jackson were poised to usher in the new season with a press conference on the Las Vegas Strip Wednesday before the show's season premier, which will focus on Savannah, Ga., auditions. Thursday's show will feature tryouts in Pittsburgh.
"Idol's" new season 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.
Now, "Idol" remains the nation's TV ratings leader, but faces challenges from NBC's competition "The Voice," and Fox's "The X Factor," which stars Cowell.
"'Idol' is still the best TV show of its kind anywhere," Jackson told an audience of TV critics recently. "We are the original. We kind of invented this whole game that everybody is now copying."
The show has helped launched the careers of pop stars Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood.
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.