And so it begins again. After one of the busiest off-seasons in American Idol history, Fox's reality juggernaut returns promising that, despite last year's questionable talent pool, sagging ratings and mass defections from the judges' table, "the best is yet to come" in Season 10. Host Ryan Seacrest even trotted out the word "epic." So, did the show live up to the hype? Let's find out.
But first, let's relive the last seven months or so in a nifty Seacrest-narrated package! In May, Simon Cowell left the show as planned. Ellen followed him in July and Kara Whatshername was shown the door as well. Then, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were hired. J. Lo reportedly walked away before her deal was closed, and radio, TV and Internet reports said Idol's goose was cooked. But then Fox officially said Tyler and Lopez were officially official judges, and the hype machine has been chugging away ever since.
"But it's not our story," the titles blared on the screen on behalf of the judges. "It's yours." But first, more of their story! The show relentlessly hammered home just how awesome and music industry-savvy Tyler and Lopez are, in case the people who watch Idol have never ever listened to the radio. But in fairness, tonight's episode wasn't about the contestants — everyone watching was judging the judges.
For the most part, the new panelists came out OK. There may not be a new Simon, but Steven is certainly a stand-in for the wackiness that's been sorely missing since Paula left. And J. Lo likes to give hugs, so... there's that. They put through some questionable voices that wouldn't have made it in years past, but hey, it's new and different this year.
Or at least it's supposed to be. We won't really know until we get to the revamped Hollywood week, because for now, Idol's audition formula hasn't changed a bit (snazzy new opening credits aside). The field of wannabe crooners in New Jersey featured some solid contenders, plenty of tone-deaf posers, a few sob stories and even a couple psychos. Ah, welcome back, Idol.
Some quick thoughts on some of the auditions — good, bad, and ugly.
Rachel Zevita, "Hallelujah"
"I remember you!" J. Lo lies. In any case, I'm not sure starting the season off with a repeat contestant who got cut in Hollywood week during Season 6 is the best way to scream "Idol like you've never seen before!" But, whatever. I didn't particularly love any part of her audition, and J. Lo thinks she is to blame because she made the poor girl nervous. But Steven thinks they should "water that flower because it's going to grow." So, she gets through to Hollywood on potential and first-day niceness.
Caleb Hawley, "Hallelujah, I Love Her So"
I think Caleb got through because Steven sang at least half the song with/for him. He had an OK voice, but I don't see this guy on the big stage — at least not based on this Harry Belafonte cover.
Kenzie Palmer, "We're Young and Beautiful"
The first 15-old-contestant we've seen since they lowered the age limit. She's got a good voice, but Steven said he wasn't feeling the pizzazz. He's right, and it's probably because, well, um, she's 15! But J. Lo changes Steven and Randy's minds, and she gets a golden ticket.
Achille Lovle, "Dress You Up"
Her singing was intense. Like, Tarzan-screaming-in-the-jungle intense. Also, it was terrible. Maybe her accent is to blame? Not true, says J. Lo who struggles with saying no for the first time. (We then get a montage of how much she hates being mean. She eventually gets over it.)
Tiffany Rios, "The Power of Love"
Proving that every reality show needs a Jersey Shore angle, Tiffany's audition is set up with a package on fist-pumping, bad fashion and how to tease your hair. (Also, she has giant stars on her boobs. Oy.) Tiffany, like J. Lo, is Puerto Rican and started singing after she saw Selena. So, she turns into a blubbering mess when she see's Miss Lopez in person. Aw, hugs. She sings an original tune, which includes the lyric: "America heeds me/for higher ratings on TV." Her singing was as bad as her songwriting. But then she sang Celine and was actually pretty decent. Didn't see it coming at all. She gets through, with a warning to focus on her voice, not being Snooki 2.0.
Robbie Rosen, "Yesterday"
My favorite audition of the night, and a reminder that not all the little kiddies should be banned. At 16, he delivered an impressively smooth take on the Beatles classic. And he overcame being in a wheelchair as a kid. (He's also been watching the show since he was 7, which makes me feel old.) Randy liked how he "marinated" on some notes and took his time with the song. He had "mad, crazy vocals." Yep, same Randy!
Victoria Huggins, "Midnight Train to Georgia"
My least favorite audition of the night, and a reminder that all the little kiddies should be banned. At "16 and three qwerters (3/4 for you non-Southerners)" she had a very strong voice. But she was unbearably annoying. She documented every step of her Idol journey on video camera, including highway sing-alongs with her stage parents. She's like what all the kids on Toddlers in Tiaras will be in 10 years. Steven makes an odd comment about how her skirt had the "right amount showing" (he hit on lots of girls), and Randy is won over by her twangy "yo, yo, dawg!" So, she gets through as the Idol contestant with the "most personality ever." If she makes the finals, I quit.
Chris Cordeiro, "My Way"
Truly the worst audition of the night. He made Sinatra's classic virtually unrecognizable. But I did enjoy his dandy Eagle Scout project about the dangers of texting while driving. Everyone remember that when you're not texting in your votes for him later this season.
Michael Perotto, "Proud Mary"
He burps when he gets nervous. Apparently, he also sings terribly. He sounds like a really bad Cher impersonator. When Steven suggests he might be better for musical theater, Randy advises him not to sing anywhere ever again. Hmm, is Randy the new Simon?
Ashley Sullivan, "Gimme Gimme"
She's Britney Spears-obsessed, and even carries around a photo of the pop star in her pocket for good luck. Her song wasn't terribly sung, but it was manic. And very Broadway. She says she wants to be the first show-tune pop star. (Sorry, Ashley, but Adam Lambert already exists.) Also, she thinks "pop needs to get with Liza Minelli." She then has a mental breakdown during deliberations. Randy wisely says no, but Steven and J. Lo say yes, and Steven promises to work her unbridled enthusiasm into something good.
Melinda Ademi, "If I Ain't Got You"
Warm and fuzzy alert! Her family escaped from war-torn Kosovo via the green card lottery. She does a great job with Alicia Keys' song, and wins a golden ticket to Hollywood. "You can live the American dream!" J. Lo says. "You won the lottery twice!" Nice, J. Lo.
Devyn Rush, "God Bless the Child"
This singing waitress from New York had a great voice. So instead, the judges made fun of her outfit. She gets a golden ticket with the advice to believe in her voice and become a total package. This industry has no soul.
Yoji "Pop" Asano, "Party in the U.S.A."
He's been imitating Michael Jackson since "before he was born." But instead of sharing those special talents with us, he sings a Miley Cyrus song he says he hates. Don't worry, some of MJ's dance moves are in there. But none of the King of Pop's talent shows up. Shocking, I know.
Brielle Von Hugel, "Endless Love"
Her dad, a doo wop singer, had throat cancer. She dedicates her performance to him. Steven thought she "sang beautiful." (That was his non-grammatical catch phrase of the night.) Because she had a tear-jerking story, she obviously was going to get through, but she has a solid voice. Downside: She, too, is 16.
Travis Orlando, "Eleanor Rigby"
Producers laid it on thick at the end: Travis grew up in the Bronx, battling drugs and gang violence. And his dad got sick and they lost their home. He has a nice tone to his voice, and he made some interesting choices in the arrangement. But he sounds like he's singing with a tennis ball in his throat. He just needs to loosen up, and he'll get a chance to in Hollywood.
So, do you think this batch of wannabes "sang beautiful"? What do you think of the new judges? Are you looking forward to Season 10, or are you patiently waiting for Simon's return in the fall with The X Factor? Share all your thoughts in the comments below!
And so it begins again. After one of the busiest off-seasons in American Idol history, Fox's reality juggernaut returns promising that, despite last year's questionable talent pool, sagging ratings and mass defections from the judges' table, "the best is yet to come" in Season 10. Host Ryan Seacrest even trotted out the word "epic." So, did the show live up to the hype? Let's find out...