POSTED BY STUART LEVINE

Yup, it’s that time of year again.

Time to find ourselves face to face with those narcissistic posers, self-righteous egomaniacs, and, on rare occasion, someone who actually knows something about what it takes to create a winning song. And those are just the judges.

"American Idol," in all its pumped-up glory, returns Tuesday and Wednesday night and so the seventh season begins. The auditions, the insults, the crying, the tears, the guest performers, "Idol Gives Back," a trip to Hollywood, a final 12 and, when it’s all over, another champ standing among the confetti at the Kodak.Simongallery1

Fox arranged a conference call with Simon Cowell Wednesday morning to discuss the new season, his reflections on last year and whether Paula is as crazy as she seemed in her Bravo reality show.

"Yes, she’s an emotional girl," Cowell said, "but things were exaggerated in the edit."

Cowell affirms last season was a bad one, in terms on the quality of the competition, but believes this new group of contestants are a cut above from what he’s seen at the nationwide auditions.

"This is a much better season. If it was worse, we’d have a problem. We can’t guarantee to find a superstar but we’re at the mercy of who turns up at the auditions. … I think it’s going to be one of the strongest years in a long, long time. The talent is younger, more current and more interesting. I’m going into this season more optimistic than last year. Paula and Randy said last year the bar was risen, but I didn’t believe it. I think it’s going to be a big year."

Where "Idol" always arrives in January as the 800-lb. gorilla on the TV landscape, this year it’s gained a few pounds. There’s little, if any, scripted competition and viewers could be salivating for the real-life drama that "Idol" provides.

Cowell discussed this season’s heightened ratings expections set against the lack of scripted programming, but the Brit said those raised expectations are nothing new.

"That’s happened the last two or three years. We’re in the same position as we were last year and the year before. The show has got to look better and be more fun," he admitted. "If it is, people will watch but it absolutely comes down to the content we provide the viewers."

As for his relationship with Paula and Randy, Cowell says that after being together for so long, there’s bound to be fights and disagreements. But that’s all part of the natural course of things.

"After seven years, you get on each other’s nerves. We’re not robots and you can become a bit argumentative or emotional."

Emotional isn’t a term one might use to describe Cowell, who seems very calculating in his comments to impressionable would-be stars. Especially the ones who can’t sing a lick and are deserving of his wrath. But even Cowell admits there have been instances when he’s been unnecessarily harsh.

"There are certain times when you watch a show back and you hate yourself for what you said at the time," he explains. "You don’t know their backstory before they walked in the room. Maybe their dog just died. You see their backstory and feel horrible."

"And sometimes you get very bored, but at the end of the day every person has seen ‘Idol’ and they know what they’re in store for."

Not just the horrific singers, but audiences too. We know what to expect as well.

Let the hysteria begin.

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