NEW YORK - Scooching in between Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson sounds intimidating, if not a little scary.
But Kara DioGuardi, the newly-installed fourth judge on "American Idol," is confident she'll find her niche within the bickering, ratings-tested judges' panel where the line between love and hate is blurred with every critique.
"I'm just gonna speak to Simon the way I speak to everybody," DioGuardi told reporters during a teleconference Monday. "I'm just gonna have my opinion, be honest and I don't foresee any problems. I'm really excited about this, and up for the challenge."
The Grammy-nominated songwriter will make her debut when the eighth season of "Idol" premieres in January, the Fox network said Monday.
"It's really flattering too, you know, to think that (`Idol') even thought about me," she said. "I mean, when I got the call, I thought they were calling the wrong person. So I'm the new kid on the block, and I'm hoping everyone's gonna go easy on me - and that I bring a lot to the table."
It's not yet clear how ties will be broken in the audition process - in past seasons, two out of three judges had to agree to advance aspiring pop stars to the Hollywood round. And something will have to give during the telecast that barely has enough time to fit in three judges' opinions.
DioGuardi, now the youngest "Idol" judge at 37, said she leads a "low-key" life. In that case, she'd do well to prepare for the instant celebrity that comes with appearing on the most popular - and lucrative - reality show on television.
Which begs the question: Who IS Kara DioGuardi?
"I'm maybe not a household name, but people know of me in the industry," said DioGuardi, who co-owns the Los-Angeles based company Arthouse Entertainment, which is now producing music by recent "Idol" runner-up David Archuleta.
DioGuardio's songs have been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and Pink, among others. Her recent Top 40 hits include Stefani's "Rich Girl," Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," Clarkson's "Walk Away" and Dion's "Taking Chances."
In 2000, the New York-born songwriter and longtime friend Abdul co-wrote the dance tune "Spinning Around" for Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue.
Her TV experience includes appearing a judge on the short-lived ABC reality series "The One: Making a Music Star" in 2006.
DioGuardi begins her "Idol" journey Tuesday during auditions in New York. It will be the judges' first time together in one room; DioGuardi said she only just met host/ringleader Ryan Seacrest on Monday morning.
"You'll have to see if there are fireworks tomorrow," she cooed in her smoky voice.
Which begs another question: Why mess with chemistry that's working?
"We are turning the heat up on `Idol' this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges' table," said creator and executive producer Simon Fuller in a statement. "She is a smart, sassy lady, and one of America's most successful songwriters. We know she will bring a new level of energy and excitement to the show."
Executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz said a fourth judge isn't a new idea.
"We had originally intended for `American Idol' to have four judges," she said. "We've seen from our international series that having a fourth judge creates a dynamic that benefits both the contestants and the viewers."
DioGuardi plans to be a straight shooter. She wants to help contestants succeed, but she will be harsh when need be.
"I'd say I'm honest," she said. "I'd say I believe in what I believe in, and I'm willing to fight for it. And I'm pretty feisty."
As an "Idol" viewer, she said she's disagreed with each judge at one point - although admits that Cowell's criticism is generally "spot on." Some of her favorite past contestants were Clarkson and season-seven finalist Brooke White.
She hopes to find the The Next Big Thing.
"What makes an artist is somebody who's unique," she said. "That when their song comes on the radio, I know exactly who it is. ... It's not about vocal acrobatics."
Let the drama begin.
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