"I think the stakes ... each year it gets better and better," Jennifer Lopez said in a recent press conference. "We have so many amazingly talented artists this year."
Randy Jackson was particularly impressed by the show's teenage hopefuls, saying, "That under-20 crowd is stronger than ever."
J.Lo added that even those that the judges weren't 100-percent sure would thrive in the competition are now surprising them "beyond [their] wildest dreams."
"They also seem to have the whole package," J.Lo raved. "They understand that there's a performance that needs to be there. They understand that they have to dress a certain way ... They're like little pop stars in a box."
Check out part two of the American Idol season premiere Thursday at 8/7c on FOX.