American Idol lassoed the Green excitement by introducing a hybrid for its eighth season, which debuted last night on Fox. Kara DioGuardi, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, joined Paula, Randy and Simon the Terrible as the highly anticipated fourth judge. Along with her rather pretty face, DioGuardi’s judging brought some much-needed balance to the Coca-Cola-sponsored table.

DioGuardi’s critiques were straightforward and realistic, minus eviscerating smirk or vacuous babble. She seemed genuinely pleased to meet Leah Marie, a 16-year-old songwriter self-described as “a cross between Hilary Duff and Madonna,” who presented the new judge with a binder of original songs before caterwauling a rendition of Cascada’s  “Everytime We Touch.” DioGuardi seemed to choose her words carefully in the midst of the subsequent general mockery and inanities. She was as uncompromising as Simon, but without his fiendish cruelty, explaining her rejection of Leah Marie’s voice as underdeveloped and unready for Idol. DioGuardi also, however, commended the teen’s dedication to songwriting as an indication of nascent talent; her encouragement was specific and realistic, in contrast to Perky Paula’s dopey fawning.

Haters all over the internet griped that producers thought only to shake up the dynamic at the judges’ table by introducing a fourth voice. After just one episode, it seems pretty clear that DioGuardi’s contribution will be more substantive, sending contestants away with honest but non-suicide-provoking feedback. Maybe, just maybe, DioGuardi can distinguish herself as the American Idol judge with words worth hearing.

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