There were a number of other major changes in the season, from the judges to the format of the show itself including the opening intro, which used the "Gyroscope 2.0". On May 9, 2013, Randy Jackson announced that he would no longer serve as a judge. On May 30, 2013, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj also announced they would not return to the judging panel. On August 1, 2013, it was confirmed that Keith Urban would return as a judge for another season. Executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick were succeeded by Per Blankens, previously of Idol, the Swedish version of the Idols format. On June 25, 2013, it was confirmed that producers Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager would join Blankens as executive producers of the show. Bill DeRonde replaced Warwick as a director of the audition episodes, and Louis J. Horvitz also replaced Gregg Gelfand as a director of the show, who had been directing since the sixth season. Fox television executive Mike Darnell who helped launch American Idol in 2002 left as programming head of Fox, and Fox Sports executive David Hill was hired to oversee the series.Rickey Minor returned to the show as musical director after having left at the end of the ninth season to go to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In August 2013, Jennifer Lopez's boyfriend Casper Smart stated Lopez would be returning as an American Idol judge. On August 22, 2013, it was reported that Jimmy Iovine would not return as the in-house mentor for this season, but he is to be replaced by former judge Randy Jackson. On August 30, 2013, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Harry Connick, Jr. signed a deal to join the panel as the third judge and that Simon Fuller held a party the night before with all three judges on hand to toast the forthcoming announcement. On September 3, 2013, Lopez and Connick Jr. were officially announced as judges for this season along with the confirmation of Jackson being the new mentor. Lopez is the first American Idol judge to return after leaving at the end of the eleventh season. It was also later reported that Idol alumni Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry would be assisting Jackson in mentoring the contestants.
In a rules change from past seasons, semifinalists from the twelfth season (but not previous seasons) who were not in the top 10, nor on the tour and the age limit past above 28, were eligible to return, provided they met all other requirements. That rule will also apply to this season's semi-finalists and finalists who were not in this season's top 10 next season. This season the viewers may also vote for their favorite contestants via Google Search, bringing the total number of ways the viewers can vote to five (the other four methods were by phone, texting, supervote online on americanidol.com and with American Idol App on mobile devices), with the number of votes limited to 50 for each method of voting. This season AT&T ended their sponsorship and it is therefore possible to text-votes with other service providers. Idol teamed up with Facebook to present "on-air visualizations" showing real-time East Coast voting developments, including live "demographic voting trends and relative contestant rankings". Voting may also start as soon as the performance shows start this season, and real time vote rankings were shown while the show is still in progress, and each contestant were assigned the same telephone number all through the competition.
An auditioner this season was Tristen Langley, son of first season's third-placed finalist Nikki McKibbin, who made history as the first of the second-generation contestants on American Idol. He was eliminated in the "Hollywood or Home" round.
A special "Hollywood or Home" round was introduced this season whereby contestants were eliminated soon after they have landed in LAX airport before they even reached Hollywood. 52 contestants the judges were uncertain of performed solo in an airplane hangar, and 32 were sent back to the airport. The 160 contestants left then proceeded on to Hollywood and performed solo in the Dolby Theatre in groups of ten. After this round, 104 contestants remained where they performed in groups of three or four. 77 contestants went through to a further solo round.
The Hollywood rounds ended with a Top 30 being announced on February 12 and 13, 2014. However, a new twist was added and the judges chose only 15 girls and 14 boys, with the "15th boy" to be chosen by the voting public. The options were Ben Briley or Neco Starr. The result of the vote and the name of the public's choice to complete the Top 30 was announced on February 18. And it was Ben Briley who had made into the Top 30.
The aforementioned contestants and three finalists outside of the top 10 will be eligible to audition for the fourteenth season.
Casey Thrasher auditioned for the fourteenth season, but he was cut at top 48.
Bria Anai, Jordan Brisbane, Ethan Harris, Briston Maroney, Maurice Townsend, Marrialle Sellars, and Emmanuel Zidor auditioned for the fourteenth season, but they were cut before they could see the judges.
The semi-finals round started on February 18. The three-day event on February 18, 19 and 20 was marketed as "Rush Week." Below are the two semi-final groups (females and males) with contestants listed in their performance order. The top five males and top five females, along with the three wild card choices by the judges, advanced to the finals. In a change, the judges eliminated five of each gender before they even had a chance to perform in front of the live studio audience. The females started the semifinal round, and the males continued on following night's episode, and the contestants will perform songs of their choice (there was no particular theme).
The "Rush Week" twist was not well received by critics. As described by Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo TV, "The other five just sat backstage for a couple hours (while their loved ones sat in the audience), waited in vain for their names to be called, and eventually went home."
Following those ten singers advancing on Thursday, February 20, five of the remaining ten semi-finalists were selected by the judges to compete in the Wild Card round. The Wild Card round immediately began, following the announcement of the ten finalists. Following another performance by each Wild Card contender, the judges then selected three contestants to advance to the final group of 13. For their performances, the contestants prepared to reprise their third round Hollywood solos for consideration. Jena Irene and Spencer Lloyd each performed their own, respective original songs.
Caleb Johnson (born April 23, 1991) is from Asheville, North Carolina. He previously auditioned in the tenth and eleventh seasons, but he was cut off during the selection of top 25. He auditioned in Atlanta where he performed an original song "Into the Void". In the Hollywood round he first performed "Sympathy for the Devil", followed a performance of "Too Close" in a group which included CJ Harris, and "Radioactive" for the last solo. He was announced as the winner on May 21. Johnson is the second returning contestant to win Idol after Candice Glover in the previous season.
Alex Preston (born May 6, 1993) is from Mont Vernon, New Hampshire. He performed an original song "Fairytales" for his audition. During Hollywood week, he performed "Scream and Shout" for the first solo, and his own composition "Fairytales" for the final solo. He was eliminated on May 15, 2014, and came in third place. Prior to his elimination, Preston had never been in the bottom 3 or in the bottom 2 before.
Jessica Meuse (born October 19, 1990 in Round Rock, Texas) is from Slapout, Alabama. She auditioned in Atlanta singing one of her own songs, "Blue-Eyed Lie". She reprised the song for the top 8 and sung another original, "Done", during Hollywood Week. Prior to auditioning she had written over sixty original songs and self-released a debut album, called "What's So Hard About Bein' a Man", in 2011. She was eliminated on May 8, coming in fourth place.
Sam Woolf (born April 19, 1996) is from Bradenton, Florida. He auditioned in Boston, singing "Lego House" by Ed Sheeran. He sang "Waiting on the World to Change" on the first round in Hollywood, and his original composition entitled "I Tried" in the final solo of the Hollywood Round. He was saved from elimination by the judges after receiving the lowest number of votes in the top eight round. He was eliminated on May 1, coming in fifth place.
CJ Harris (born January 28, 1991) is from Jasper, Alabama. He auditioned in Salt Lake City, where he sang "Soulshine". He performed "Trouble" in the first Hollywood round, and was in a group with fellow finalist Caleb Johnson, performing the Alex Clare song "Too Close". For the final solo he performed "Bring It On Home to Me", however, he was asked to perform again in the Final Judgement to compete against Casey Thrasher, and chose to sing "Whipping Post". He was eliminated on April 24, coming in sixth place.
Dexter Roberts (born July 12, 1991) is from Fayette, Alabama. He performed "Drive" for his audition, and for the group round he was part of the group Backstreet Cowboys together with Casey Thrasher and fellow finalist Ben Briley, performing the song "I Want It That Way". For the final solo he performed an original song, "Farmer's Grandson". He was eliminated on April 17, 2014, coming in seventh place.
Malaya Watson (born September 24, 1997) is from Southfield, Michigan. She is a tuba player of the marching band of Southfield High School. She auditioned in Detroit with Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way". In the first round in Hollywood, she sang "Brand New Me" by Alicia Keys. She performed "I Believe" in the final solo on Hollywood round. She cites her two grandfathers and her father as her personal musical influences. She described her style in singing from Sly Stone and Beyoncé. She is the second youngest contestant in American Idol history that has reached the live show, next to tenth season contestant, Thia Megia. She was eliminated on April 10, coming in eighth place.
Majesty Rose (born February 29, 1992) is from Goldsboro, North Carolina. She auditioned in Atlanta, where she sang Coldplay's "Violet Hill". Prior on auditioning, she was a pre-school teacher and she graduated in Eastern Wayne High School on 2011. In Hollywood, she performed "1234" and "Stars". She was eliminated on March 27, coming in ninth place.
MK Nobilette (born August 20, 1993) is from San Francisco, California. She auditioned in San Francisco with "If I Were Your Woman," and advanced to Hollywood, where she was one of many contestants who had to "sing for their lives," or get back on the plane home. For the Hollywood rounds she chose an Allen Stone song for the a cappella round, which was not aired. She performed "Royals in the group round. For her final Hollywood solo she did "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran. She is the first openly gay finalist to be publicly acknowledged on the show.[note 1] She was eliminated on March 20, 2014, and came in tenth place. She also did not appear or sing in the live finale, due to being ill at that time.
Ben Briley (born March 19, 1989) is from Gallatin, Tennessee. He auditioned in Atlanta, singing "Arms of a Woman". He performed "Stars" in the final solo of the Hollywood Round, and was in a group called Backstreet Cowboys with fellow finalist Dexter Roberts, performing the Backstreet Boys song "I Want It That Way". Ben Briley and Neco Starr both appeared before the judges for the Final Judgement, however the judges could not decide who to choose, and sent both to a vote by fans, which was won by Briley. He was eliminated on March 13, coming in eleventh place.
In this season, there are 13 weeks of the finals and 13 finalists, with one finalist eliminated per week based on the American public's votes. Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" is used as the send-off song played when a contestant is eliminated, using the eliminated contestant's version of the song. Former judge Randy Jackson replaced Jimmy Iovine as the weekly mentor to the contestants.
The finalists reprised the songs they performed when they first auditioned, with Jessica Meuse and Alex Preston each performing their own, respective original compositions. They also performed duets for the first time this season.
On results night, the contestants were given the option to choose to have no one eliminated this week, but to eliminate two contestants the following week. In order for this to happen, the decision had to be unanimous after anonymous voting. Since two of the contestants (Jena Irene and Alex Preston) wanted to see an elimination happen this week, Sam Woolf was revealed to be the contestant with the lowest total of votes and was eliminated.
Top 4 – Love: Break-Ups, Dedications, and Make-Ups
The finalists sang three rounds of songs about love: the first dealing with break-ups, the second dealing with personal dedications to others, and the third dealing with make-ups.
Top 3 – Randy Jackson's Choice / Judges' Choice / Hometown's Choice
The finalists sang two new songs chosen by the judges and in-house mentor Randy Jackson; the third was a reprisal of a previous performance, selected by the finalists' hometowns. Also, the performance show marked the series' 500th episode overall.
^Note 1 Due to the judges using their one 'Judges' Save' per season, in order to save Woolf, the 'Top 8' remained intact for another week, and no one was eliminated at the end of the show on April 3.
^Note 2 During the 'Top 5' results show the remaining contestants were given the option by each taking an anonymous vote to either go by America's votes and send only one person home or if all votes were "yes" the 'Top 5' will remain intact for one more week and two contestants go home next week. The votes ended with two out of the five voting no. Without revealing the bottom 2, Ryan announced that Sam Woolf had received the lowest amount of votes and was eliminated.
During his interview with AfterBuzz TV following the Top 5 elimination show, Caleb Johnson made offensive remarks about his fans who tweet him song suggestions. "[Twitter] gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to me," Caleb said. "I don't really enjoy having to see somebody telling me what song I have to sing. I think at this point of the competition, I can pick and choose my own songs and represent me. I don't need 10,000 people saying, 'You should sing this, you should sing that. Listen to me!' Fortunately, guys, I'm going to listen to myself, whether you like it or not." 
His comment has been described as "arrogant", with some fans turning against him. After his fans expressed outrage on Twitter, Caleb issued an apology on his Facebook page. "For the record that juvenile comment I made in the interview was not directed towards my fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to me! You guys are amazing and I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sorry if it offended anybody it was the wrong choice of words. Also I greatly appreciate it when you guys give me song suggestions but it gets really overwhelming at the volume it comes in so please understand ! Rock on !:)" 
Harry Connick Jr. was lauded for his performance as a judge. USA Today, Rolling Stone, and MTV all claimed that he "stole the spotlight" during the season premiere with his humor and knowledgeable feedback. Kristin Dos Santos of E! Online suggested that Connick Jr. could save the struggling show. She called him better than Simon Cowell, writing that while he is "brutally honest", he also shows heart. Robert Rorke of the New York Post wrote that Connick Jr. was unlikely to "save" American Idol, but also wrote that he made the show watchable again by bringing class and keeping the focus on the contestants.
For the first time in nearly twelve years, an American Idol episode dropped beneath the ten-million viewer mark. This occurred on February 18, 2014. The last time an episode was below this mark was July 24, 2002.
Jim Verraros (first season, 2002) had discussed being gay in online journals which the show forced him to take down, not due to his sexuality, but because they felt he might be trying to get extra votes. He came out after he finished the show and tour."Idol gossip". The Advocate. 2002-09-03. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2007-07-18., Steele, Bruce C. (2003-01-21). "A teen Idol's dreams". The Advocate. BNET Business Network.