I don't think they've toned down the backstories.
I hardly watch the show before they get to Hollywood, but I have seen, since then, all about Mike's new baby, Andrew's gang parents, Crystal's single mom status, etc. etc. etc.
I don't care that much about the backstories, but I do think they should, if they're going to use them, do them for all the contestants. Otherwise, the contestants who are being pimped always have an unfair advantage.
As far as the judges, I preferred when they had the 3 judges. Four is overkill and I would have preferred not to have "the average viewer" represented on the panel in the form of Ellen.