It’s back! The ratings behemoth that is American Idol is back for its tenth season, but its first without Simon Cowell, who has departed to launch the US version of X Factor. Cowell wasn’t the only judge to leave the show, however. Following him out of the exit were Kara Dioguardi (credentials: hit songwriter who nobody had ever heard of) and Paula Abdul‘s replacement, Ellen DeGeneres (credentials: er, provided the voice of a fish in Finding Nemo).
Making up the all-new panel with original judge Randy Jackson are Steven Tyler, front man of Aerosmith (credentials: 150 million-plus record sales) and Jennifer Lopez (credentials: 50 million records sold and, er, Maid in Manhattan). It’s hard to argue with the musical credibility of the new gang of three – let’s call them J-Lo, S-Ty and R-Jack, shall we? – a panel which is now genuinely intimidating for more than Cowell’s famous withering put-downs. But how would they cope without the presence of the angular-haired, high-trousered one?
Actually, rather well. Despite the new faces, the return of Idol was nonetheless reassuringly familiar. It was a bit like meeting an old friend after a long absence – after the initial reacquaintance, you realise there is nothing particularly new to discover but equally you just comfortably slip back into old routines: the obligatory opening scene of thousands of fresh-faced hopefuls gathered together in a stadium to declare that they are “the next American Idol”, and the usual mix of the great, the terrible and the surprising, with a dash of inspirational or heartstring-tugging human interest stories woven in.
Here are my highlights, awards show-style, from the double-length premiere episode covering the New Jersey auditions.
The Returning Failure Award
Rachel Zevita made it as far as Hollywood week in season six and came back for a second shot this time around. She warbled operatically through a painful rendition of Hallelujah, before J-Lo professed to remember watching her previous appearances while cuddling upon the sofa with hubby Marc Anthony, a Chinese takeaway and a couple of tins of special brew. Okay, Jen, we already knew you were a Celebrity Fan of the Show™. We didn’t need the producers to set up this decidedly hokey bit of theatre to prove it.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Hollywood Week exit.
Most Likely To Be a Serial Killer Award
No set of Idol auditions is complete without at least one contestant who you just know you will see on the news one day because he has gone on a random killing spree in a small town community somewhere. Step forward Michael Perotto, who prepared for his future career by murdering Proud Mary.
Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: Coming to a 24-hour news channel near you.
This neatly segues into my next award …
The Steven Tyler-ism of the Day Award
Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?
Word. I like Steven Tyler already. A lot. Without being over the top, he isn’t afraid to call it as he sees it and he really doesn’t care if he offends anyone. It’s hard to argue with a man who has sold 150 million records and has slightly more credibility than a former choreographer (Paula Abdul) who was once outshone by a cartoon cat in a music video (Opposites Attract).
The Tenuous Narrative Thread Award
Most audition episodes have some kind of common theme or narrative which holds them together: Simon is grumpy, Randy calls everyone ‘Dawg’, contestants imitating previous Idol winners, that sort of thing. This episode’s somewhat tenuous line was to position J-Lo and S-Ty as the good cop and bad cop of the judging panel. Host Ryan Seacrest tells us that J-Lo is having difficulty saying “no” to contestants. (To complete my rhyming couplet, presumably S-Ty can’t say “aye”?)
The Jenny From The Block Award (sponsored by J-Lo)
Tiffany Rios, the Puerto Rican dance instructor who cried when she saw her idol, the Puerto Rican dancer-slash-singer-slash-actress J-Lo. She taped stars to her bikini top and sang first an original song and then the Jennifer Rush classic The Power of Love. She was okay, no more than that.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Hollywood Week exit.
Best Name of the Day award
Melkia Wheatfall. Just because.
The Feel-Good Inspiration Award
Robbie Rosen was confined to a wheelchair by a serious, life-threatening illness as a five-year old, but recovered to walk again. He sang The Beatles‘ Yesterday, a song choice which usually results in an A-grade crash-and-burn. He was brilliant. And he reminded me of a young Christopher Moltisanti from The Sopranos. Bonus.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Final 12.
Most Likely To Spontaneously Combust in Hollywood Week Award
Britney Spears wannabe Ashley Sullivan reckoned she might be the first ‘Awkward Idol’. Failing that, I suspect she may already have a restraining order against her. Kind of intense. Not in a good way.
She sang – shouted, really – Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie in an over the top Broadway style. Then she begged. And she cried. The judges put her through – not because she was outstanding, I suspect, but because her hyper-intensity will inevitably result in the mother of all spontaneous combustions in Hollywood Week, probably on group song day. Fellow contestants would be well advised to retreat to a safe distance.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Hollywood Week meltdown. It will be spectacular – and there will be casualties.
The Precocious Brat Award
Victoria Huggins, 16¾ – the ¾ is important, apparently (who does she think she is, Adrian Mole?) – bounded in as if on springs, all perky smiles and glittering teeth. No doubt she uses words like ’empowering’ and ‘envisioning’ a lot. J-Lo declared her adorable. S-Ty commented on her skirt, saying “just the right amount showing”, which sent R-Jack and the crew into paroxysms of laughter.
To be fair, she took on a huge song in Midnight Train to Georgia and knocked it out of the park. But I’m not sure how long I can put up with watching a one-girl pep rally. My teeth were already grating just watching her audition.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Will fall just short of the final 12. There will be tears.
The God Save America Award
Melinda Ademi and her family fled war-torn Kosovo and won the green card lottery. She ticked both the human interest story and ethnic diversity boxes. Most importantly, she sang Alicia Keys‘ If I Ain’t Got You and didn’t pale in comparison with the original – quite an achievement. Wow.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Final 12, but will get knocked out sooner than she deserves to be, while other far less talented planks with bigger fan clubs remain.
The “I Didn’t Expect That” Award
Devyn Rush, the singing waitress in a Times Square restaurant – whose name badge proclaimed her as ‘The Devster’- looked all the world like a cabaret-style singer. And then she sang, and a classic soulful voice from five decades ago emerged. But can she adapt to a show which requires its contestants to sing more contemporary music? One to watch.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Final 24, but will struggle to progress further if she cannot build an audience/fan club.
Ironic Song Choice Award
One of Idol‘s golden rules: never pick a song which provides its own punchline. When will contestants ever learn? Certainly not the one who picked and then murdered I’m A Believer. I wasn’t. And neither were the judges.
The Dude Looks Like a Lady Award (sponsored by S-Ty)
Okay, he didn’t really look that effeminate. But Japanese Michael Jackson impersonator Yoji ‘Pop’ Asano did bear a passing resemblance to season eight runner-up Adam Lambert. He gave a, well, unique rendition of Miley Cyrus‘s Party in the USA. It was a bad song to begin with. He made it worse. Still, nice dance moves.
Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: Watch out, amateur night. Yoji’s in town!
The Triple Threat Award
The opening audition of the season usually provides us with one nailed-on finalist – a genuine triple threat who combines a superb voice with teen-friendly looks and a killer personal story – and this year was no exception. 16-year old Travis Orlando from the Bronx was forced to move into a shelter when his father fell chronically ill and lost his job.
He sang The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and Jason Mraz‘s I’m Yours, and both were excellent. He reminded me a lot of Andrew Garcia from last year, an early favourite with a similarly distinctive voice who wowed the judges with his unique take on Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, but who quickly became an also-ran after failing to recapture the magic once we got to the final 12.
Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Final 12, and a ood bet for the top three if he proves not to be a one-trick pony.
And that’s your lot from New Jersey. Next up: New Orleans.
For an alternative view on American Idol, visit Monkseal’s review here.
Link: American Idol website