American Idol

Michael Becker / FOX

It's time to get a bigger table.

Five months before the new season of American Idol is set to kick off (and apparently trying to steal some of Dancing With the Stars' thunder), producers are shaking things up in a big way, messing with what was until now a winning formula and adding a fourth permanent judge to the table.

Joining Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson when the eighth season of the reality juggernaut begins in January is prolific singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi.

The Grammy nominee's name may not be familiar to Idol viewers, but her sound should be. DioGuardi has strong ties to the behind-the-scenes world of Idol, having written tracks for David Cook, David Archuleta, Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, Bo Bice, Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks.

She has also more than earned her credentials outside the Idol universe, having penned hits for Britney Spears, Jonas Brothers, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Céline Dion, Faith Hill, Paris Hilton, Avril Lavigne, Lindsay Lohan, Leona Lewis, Natasha Bedingfield, Santana, Hilary Duff, Simpsons Jessica and Ashlee and just about any other artist who's cracked Billboard's Top 10 in recent years.

The Idol brain trust, meanwhile, don't seem too concerned with altering the show's chemistry, despite the fact that they have tried and spectacularly failed once before.

"We are turning the heat up on Idol this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges' table," creator and executive producer Simon Fuller said. "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."

Fellow executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz added that the series had intended from the outset to have a four-judge panel, as both its British predecessor Pop Idol and current counterpart X Factor, do.

"We've seen from our international series that having a fourth judge creates a dynamic that benefits both the contestants and the viewers."

But not always the judges.

Producers tried once before to add a fourth judge to the Idol mix, hiring New York DJ Angie Martinez to permanently join the second season of the show. Unfortunately, she quit the job just five days in after revealing she had never bothered to watch an episode before signing on.

Martinez issued a statement at the time saying it was "too uncomfortable for me to tell someone else to give up on their dream," and producers quickly reverted back to the three-judge panel.

Until now.

Auditions for the eighth season kicked off in San Francisco on July 17 and ran through an Aug. 19 stop in East Rutherford, N.J. As word miraculously failed to break until now about the new judge addition, it's unclear whether DioGuardi has been a fixture at the table throughout the audition process or whether her critical tenure will instead begin in the new year.

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