American Idol will change “the entire theme and concept of the show” tonight

Significant change is coming to American Idol, as Ryan Seacrest promised last night that something unveiled during the results show tonight will change “the entire theme and concept of the show,” and that Simon Cowell said, “it involves us, so I’m not sure whether public are going to like this.”

Those comments suggest the judges will begin playing a role during the finals, probably by selecting which of the bottom two actually go home. Simon started the show by saying, “I have some not quite-so-good news now: two of you are going to go home tomorrow,” but that’s probably a fake-out, especially since the show has yet to unveil the big twist. The most likely possibility is that the judges will pick one of the bottom two to keep and one to go home, perhaps after a sing-off. (Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified the number of weeks it’d take to get through 13 contestants, because my math abilities suck. I regret the error.)

Besides news of the twist, the first episode of the finals didn’t disappoint. Of course, any episode of American Idol that starts with Jesus Seacrest, a backlit version of our host standing atop a new staircase, is a good one. The judges entered after being introduced by an announcer, taking away part of Ryan’s job, and the set parted for them. Simon Cowell was near-giddy, and Ryan called him out, saying that Simon suggested a more dramatic entrance to Fox.

Among the other changes were a giant LCD screen on the floor in front of the judges that also serves as an extension to the stage, allowing the contestants to literally dance on their own faces. Those contestants delivered performances–of Michael Jackson songs–that were nowhere near as cringeworthy as the performances we were subjected to during the semifinal rounds.

Alexis Grace got the special new phone number, 1-800-IDOLS-36, and Ryan started reminding people to dial carefully after the very first performance. Critiquing Alexis, Kara said, “You’re a naughty girl, and I liked it”–a not-so-veiled reference to the phone sex line’s recording.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell was more honest than usual, telling Scott “the backlash is coming” MacIntyre, “it’s fine being artistic, just not on this show.” Later, he told Kris Allen, “I’m not sure I would have brought the wife out so early,” a reference to the fact that Kris has little more than his cuteness.

Adam Lambert did more of his thing with “Black or White,” which led Paula to proclaim that he was the more “comfortable, seasoned on that stage” than any previous performer. She also predicted both Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert will end up in the finals, which would actually be a pretty showdown.

Simon said Adam was in a “totally different league,” although he totally gave Adam the finger while he said that. And I only noticed that because I watch Lie to Me and a recent episode highlighted a gestural emblem when people involuntarily flick off other people. Watch it here at 3:40.