Here is Part 1 of a 3-part series from a conference call with Kara DioGuardi on Feb. 10, 2010:

 Q: What do you think of Ellen as a judge?

Kara “I guess what I’m saying is that when I was sitting next to her, I felt she had a really good handle on whether a contestant had potential, whether they had a star quality. She knew if something was off in the vocals or in their performance, and I thought she delivered the message with kindness, but also had criticism in there.”

Q: And Paula’s absence?

Kara: “I really don’t want to speak about Paula’s absence because you can’t really compare Paula and Ellen. They’re completely different, and I think they both bring something valuable to the table. To judge on one person’s show, I think that’s very difficult to do, and I’m speaking from experience, that when I first came in, it’s something that takes time to get used to, and I think she did an incredible job for her first time there. Hopefully, you’ll see more.”

Q: Is there an Adam Lambert effect this year? Are there more really unique performers that you’ve seen?

Kara: “I would like to say, and I’ve only been on the show two years, but I think that people were interpreting songs from the get-go in audition week. They weren’t just singing them the way they were sung by the people who originally recorded them. They were kind of taking some risks, and I like that, and maybe that is because of Adam, but that’s definitely a sign of good artists when they do something unique and different with material.”

Q: So far this year we’ve had a bunch of memorable songs that have come through. Obviously, “Pants on the Ground” was kind of a big hit already, but last night we had someone singing a version of “Straight Up,” and then someone also sang a version of your song, but can you speak a little bit about how you guys reacted to hearing those versions and if there are any other surprises in store tonight.

Kara: “First off, tonight, I would be the last person to know what’s going on tonight. I have no idea. I see it when you see it, which is kind of fun. I also feel at times like a viewer as much as a participant because I don’t know what’s coming up.
“In terms of that girl singing “Terrified,” I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe it. It’s not a song that was released as a single. It’s something I co-wrote with an artist I signed to Warner Brothers, Jason Reeves, and it was a very special song for both of us.
“I put it up on my site I think last year. There was no music, there’s no way she could find the sheet music, so she went and she learned it on her own which I thought was pretty impressive to want to sit and watch that YouTube video over and over to learn it, and I think she did a really good job and a nice interpretation of it. I think she showed that she has a great range and sensitivity when she sings. I was pretty impressed by her, and the “Straight Up” was genius. That was just genius.”

Q: Is it odd sometimes when they’re singing songs you’ve written?

Kara: “Of course, because it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re singing my song. Oh my God, if it’s not good, what am I going to say?’ It was so sweet of them to even want to do that, but you have to be honest, and if she hadn’t been great, I would’ve told her. And actually “Sober” was my song, too. That was sung by Mary, I think her name was, and I thought she did that pretty good, too.”

Q: Going off of that then, were there any other changes or expectations that you had going into this year that were different from last year?

Kara: “I’m definitely more relaxed and more comfortable because I’m a little bit more used to being in front of TV. In terms of my expectations for Hollywood, I really kept them open because the panel’s been changing every week. Every time we had an audition city there was a new judge. With Hollywood Week, we had Ellen. So I just wanted to kind of keep open to everything and just be in the moment and try to be the best judge I could be.”

Q: Who do you think would be a good mentor this year?

Kara: “There are so many good mentors. I really like Harry Connick Jr. I think he would be great, especially for standards or kind of maybe even jazz. I love Meatloaf. I think he’d be fun for rock because I’ve actually worked with him in the studio. We actually recorded a song recently, and I was very impressed with the way he sort of brought out a different side of me vocally.
“He kind of has a method acting background, and he kind of applied it to singing and performance. At first I was sort of like, ‘Whoa, guy, back up,’ and then I kind of went with him, and it had a definite interesting result which I was kind of pleased about. I think those two would be pretty good.’

Q: Can you just tell us a little bit about your trip to Angola. That’s coming up, right?

Kara: “I’m not at liberty to kind of talk about that.”

Q: OK, anything you could tell us about Idol Gives Back this year?

Kara: “Hopefully. that we’re going to raise a lot of money and do a lot of good. I’m always the last person to know, so I’ll know when the episode comes around.”

NEXT: What does Kara think about the rumors of Howard Stern taking Simon’s place next season and more…