Give or take, 25 million folks will be tuned in and advertisers will start churning out upwards of $900 million over the course of the season when “American Idol’s” debuts at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox for its ninth annual run at America’s collective musical talent.

Randy Jackson, one of the show’s four judges who has been with “Idol” since Day 1, answered questions Friday (Jan. 8, 2010)  during a wide-ranging conference call aimed at promoting a season that he termed as “funny and interesting.”

Here are some of the topics he addressed:

On new judge Ellen DeGeneres:

“We do Hollywood Week next week, and that will be our first week with her. She won’t be appearing until then. I have known her for quite some time.

“Ellen is a diehard music fan and a smart, talented person, performer and entertainer herself. She’ll give that lay person at home a voice the other judges don’t give them.”

On the rumors that this might be judge Simon Cowell’s final season:

“I really don’t know, and until I hear it from him I won’t believe the rumors. The rumors are wild and crazy … you don’t know what to believe.

“Is Simon mean? To coin his phrase: ‘I don’t mean to be rude but …’ He is honest from his perspective. Sometimes it may be a bit harsh, but some people call that real. I’m not sure I’d call it mean, I’d call it very stern.”

On the talent he has seen for this season’s show:

“This year you would have thought there would have been a lot more theatrical types, more like Adam Lamberts and Kris Allens. But that didn’t happen. Very interesting, unique to this season. I think it’ll be very different.

“Like with Lady Gaga, you need a big stage and props and things like that. What is interesting to me is we have some really good, bona fide, stand-in-your-shoes singers. Interesting to see which of them can stand the test of time, but we have bona fide singers this time.”

What makes AI so popular?

“For small town kids, American Idol is the lightning that captures the moment for those who can’t. This show is a rocket ship to the top. It’s the quickest road to the top although it is incredibly hard cause you are in front of 25-30 million a night and they are judging you. Just like the four of us are judging them very harshly. You are putting your soul out there.”

What is he looking for in a contestant?

“Three things: undeniable talent, something that makes you unique and star persona. That’s what I am looking for, the big three.”