Conventional wisdom used to be that if you wanted to win “American Idol,” you had to get as much exposure as early as possible, preferably in the audition episodes. Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze have pretty well shattered that idea.
Conventional wisdom also used to be that viewers loved the “American Idol” audition episodes because they loved to see the freaks and to hear Simon Cowell’s pithyÂ eviscerations. Time to put that notion to the test.
Wednesday (Jan. 19) night’s 10th season premiere of “American Idol” launched the FOX juggernaut’s Post-Simon Era and introduced viewers to new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.Â
How does the new season look? Click through for my epic minute-by-minute recap of the premiere…
7:59 p.m. ET You know that feeling of Christmas morning, running down stairs to see what Santa left you under the tree? I don’t. I’m Jewish. I imagine it feels very different from the sense of anticipation as that familiar “American Idol” music begins to play in my head.
8:00 p.m. The show begins with news coverage of the behind-the-scenes tumult that hit “American Idol” this summer, including the various rumors and mis-reported judging announcements that seemed to stretch on for months.. The show’s new motto… “American Idol: We Like to Dither.” Yes. We know. New judges. Let’s see ’em judge. “This isn’t our story… It’s yours!” OK. Except that really, this is their story.
8:02 p.m. New credits! Rearranged music! This is *not* my father or mother’s “American Idol.”Â
8:03 p.m. Hmmm… Either “American Idol” performed an actual exorcism this summer, or this introductory clip package is just a wee bit over the top.Â
8:04 p.m. Jennifer Lopez is *not* the definition of triple-threat. She’s a very fine dancer, though. She sometimes acts and sometimes sings. Gene Kelly? Now *he* was a triple threat.Â
8:05 p.m. More people auditioned than ever before, Ryan Seacrest tells us, though he doesn’t want to give actual numbers. “American Idol” gives numbers when it’s proud. Numbers are conspicuously absent otherwise.
8:08 p.m. Also joining us? Jimmy Iovine. But why show auditions when you could go to commercials?
8:12 p.m. We begin our auditions in New Jersey at the Meadowlands, where they were able to secure the talent of Mr. Constantine Maroulis as an opening act to Ryan Seacrest. This is confusing… The on-screen information tells us that the Meadowlands auditions were on August 3, but there are J-Lo and Steven Tyler, who weren’t announced until late-September! [Note: “Idol” has always separated the big cattle-call auditions from the judging auditions by weeks or months. It’s just rare to see “Idol” producers acknowledging the artifice this blatantly.]
8:14 p.m. Meet Rachel Zevita, who auditioned in Season Six as a precocious opera-singing gal and made it to Hollywood. She was annoying then and she’s a bit chirpy and annoying now. Jennifer Lopez pretends to remember Rachel, which is really sweet. I thought she could sing back then, but this is a painfully affected version of “Halleluyah.” Absolutely none of the runs and key changes are necessary. Wherever the melody is, Rachel’s oblivious to it. J-Lo says that she remembered Rachel being better and actually apologizes for throwing Rachel off with her star-power. Yep, J-Lo. You have powers. But why not use them for good rather than evil? Steven says… something. “We have to let her in the door and water her flower,” Tyler leers as an icky way of inviting her to Hollywood. J-Lo puts Rachel through based entirely on memory.Â
8:18 p.m. Â After Rachel is Caleb Hawley who gets Tyler to somewhat quote himself with the observation, “We’re all here cuz we’re not all there.” Caleb gets Tyler to sing along. Both J-Lo and Randy agree. And I’m utterly confused, because what I heard was a thin high voice and more than a few missed notes.
8:21 p.m. In case you’ve forgotten, we opened the doors to 15-year-olds this season and our first 15-year-old isÂ Kenzie Palmer. She’s markedly better than either of the first two singers, but do I really want to have 15-year-olds on “Idol” singing “Kiss me like you mean it” and being sultry in the general direction of Steven Tyler? ICK. To his less-than-pervy credit, Tyler wasn’t feeling the pizzazz. Randy isn’t feeling it either. But J-Lo’s completely feeling it. Even though Randy complained earlier, he caves and votes “Yes.” And Tyler caves and says “Yes.” So in no time flat, J-Lo has manipulated her fellow judges from a “No” to a “Yes.” Chica has POWERS.
8:24 p.m. Lots of pretty people get tickets to Hollywood.
8:24 p.m. We now meet a young lady from the Ivory Coast. Her name is Achille Lovle. She’s singing Madonna, not that you’d know from the words or melody. She has a thick accent and a tendency to shout, but it’s unclear why the producers have chosen to make Achille our first freak of the season. It seems like random xenophobia to me. “You’ve got no notes,” Tyler tells her, telling her to pull her horses in. J-Lo tells Achille that it isn’t about her accent, but rather her singing. Saying “No” appears to cause J-Lo actual pain. “This is awful… Oh my God I hate this! Why did I sign up for this?” J-Lo wails.Â
8:33 p.m. I do not care about this Jersey Girl teasing her hair. My technology appears not to care either. I really hope she’s not the next American Idol, because I’m missing this audition.
8:36 p.m. I catch the end of the awful audition. My Slingbox goes out again. And I return in time to see the girl get a ticket to Hollywood. What the heck?
8:38 p.m. Bad singers are bad. “Singing is like… I’m not sure if it’s your forte,” Tyler tells one kid. He tells another girl that she isn’t ready and another that she isn’t “American Idol” material. His criticisms aren’t creative or constructive or funny, but at least they’re criticisms. J-Lo, on the other hand, is too full of love.Â
8:39 p.m. It takesÂ Melkia Wheatfall to get J-Lo to give out her first “This is not for you” criticism.
8:40 p.m. Up next is Robbie Rosen, a 16-year-old who had a hip problem and was confined to a wheelchair as a small child. He’s better now and he’s dreamed of being on the “Idol” stage since he was seven. But is he any good? He sings a breathy version of “Yesterday.” There are unnecessary flourishes, but he’s got the chops to be the best high school “Grease” production cast member EVER. I would like a guy named “Rosen” to be in the Top 10, so I’m glad Randy praises Robbie’s “crazy-mad vocals.”Â
8:45 p.m.Â Henceforth, Steven Tyler, J-Lo & Randy will be known as A Panel of Jovial Professionals, rather than Judges. There are just too many connotations to “judge,” namely “judging.” It’s easier to pretend these guys just have a different job description. They’re more like secondary hosts at best.Â
8:48 p.m. The male contestants all want to see J-Lo. The female contestants all want 95-year-old Steven Tyler to leer at them. This serves no purpose when it comes to finding the next America Idol, but there are definitely some smoking hot babes who want a piece of Grandpa Steve.
8:50 p.m. Chris Cordeiro is a Boy Scout with a funny hat, a banana and very specific ideas about why texting while driving is a bad idea. There’s simply no chance this kid has any talent at all. The judges mock Chris for his casual attire and then amp up the mockery when Chris whips out a bad Frank Sinatra impression. Steven doesn’t like his hat or his bangs, but still lets Chris sing the chorus of “My Way.” Then Tyler tells him, “You scared everyone in the room.” J-Lo, sounding ready to quit, asks Randy how he’s done this for 10 seasons. Â Again, though, Chris wasn’t an especially vivid freak. I mean, he’s a Good Samaritan. So what if he can’t sing?
8:58 p.m. The judges have learned to say no! They haven’t learned how to say “No” in interesting ways, but it’s their first day on the job.
8:59 p.m. Oh look! A contestant with gas. Michael Perotto is bad. He’s fairly enthusiastic, at least and the judges are initially encouraging and then not. They make fun of Michael for a while and my Slingbox has decided it’s had enough. [I’m at the mercy of weak Sundance wifi for the next few recaps.]
9:04 p.m. I return in time to see the end of a very shout-y rendition of “Give Me That Thing Called Love.” Whoever she is, she insists she’s going to be “the first show-tune pop star.” J-Lo tries reassuring her that although she isn’t right for this show, she’d be right for musicals, which isn’t exactly true either. Poor J-Lo can’t even get her compliments. Crazy Girl starts crying. She starts dancing on her knees. Randy tries to tell her it’s a “No,” but J-Lo and Tyler can’t stand to see Crazy Girl bawl, so they give her a ticket to Hollywood. Tyler vows to work her into something good as “Crazy” plays on the soundtrack. That would be Britney Spears’ “Crazy,” by the way, not Steven Tyler’s “Crazy.”
9:11 p.m. Time to break the spirit of bubbly North Carolina native Victoria Huggins (last name pronounced hug-ins, like a really cuddly political rally from the 1960s). She tells us that it isn’t normal for a 16-year-old to want something this badly. Cut to a montage of other teens talking about how much they want this. Victoria vows to provide video updates from her full “American Idol” journey. Oh can we please not? “This is my time to shine!” Victoria vows. Steven Tyler calls her “over-the-top real.” I won’t explain to him why that’s confusing. Sadly, Victoria is at least relatively good. Seriously, didn’t you want to see her fall flat on her face? What was the point of mocking her otherwise? I mean, she’s not awesome, but she’s definitely an acceptable singer. J-Lo approves and praises her skirt. Tyler agrees and adds, “Just the right amount showing.” Â Um… 183-year-old Steven Tyler, maybe you don’t want to rave about the amount of leg the jailbait is showing? Randy also puts her through.
9:16 p.m. The last contestant of the day is from Kosovo. Since “American Idol” viewers don’t know anything about Kosovo, we get an assortment of documentary images to provide context to the journey that brought her to our shores. Melinda Ademi wants the American Dream, but can she sing? Yes. “I like that you’re very pretty and beautiful,” 234-year-old Steven Tyler coos. The other two judges agree.
9:19 p.m. Honestly, if I wanted to watch nasty older men hitting on impressionable teens, I’d watch “Pretty Little Liars.”
9:23 p.m. It’s a new day. We start with Singing Waitress Devyn Rush. We see a lot of her waiting tables. We don’t hear any of her singing. The better to build tension. There’s no real tension. Devyn’s version of “God Bless the Child” is probably my favorite audition that we’ve heard tonight. Yes, she’s over-singing as well, but there’s training and confidence to it. “That was dessert to the lunch,” leers Steven Tyler. “You’ve got just the right amount of sauce,” Randy tells her, raving at how well she changed notes. [Changing notes is the best way to produce a melody.] Devyn’s off to Hollywood and they all agree that they love her. “Somebody’s gotta take her clothes shopping,” Tyler leers.
9:27 p.m. Several people suck and get sent home accordingly, but without anything memorable.
9:33 p.m. Oh good. It’s time to make fun of some random Asian guy. He’s Yoji Asano or “Yoji Pop” and he hails from Japan, where he’s been imitating Michael Jackson since before he was born. But he’s not going to sing Michael Jackson, because that would make sense. Instead he’s going to do “Party in the USA.” Dang. This is making Miley Cyrus roll over in her grave (and she’s taking humiliatingly slutty cellphone pictures of herself as she does it). Yoji Pop’s dance moves, still parroting Jacko, are better than his voice. “It *is* a party in the USA,” J-Lo announces with pride. This must be why she took this gig.
9:36 p.m. Thanks! I was saying to myself, “I’d love to see a montage of all of the episode’s worst singers doing ‘Party in the USA.'” And “American Idol” delivers, even mixing in a little Victoria Huggins for fun.
9:42 p.m. Shouty girl. Another shouty girl. These shouty girls don’t cry, so they don’t get tickets to Hollywood.
9:42 p.m. Steven Tyler criticizes another guy for his attire. Well, at least Steven Tyler decided to go boa-free today.
9:43 p.m. Another 16-year-old girl gets a backstory package. Her dad was singer. She has the unlikely name of Brielle Von Hugel and she’s paying tribute to her father, who had throat cancer, which ravaged his voice. She sings “Endless Love” and it’s actually a pleasantly understated performance. There are some missed notes, but it’s refreshingly pure. “I love your smile and your attitude,” Steven Tyler leers at her. They bring her dad into the room to hear the good news. She gets three “Yes” votes, though J-Lo and Randy nebulously tell her she has work to do.
9:49 p.m. Bringing in Steven Tyler the same year “American Idol” lowered the age restrictions is like the opposite of kismet.Â
9:51 p.m. We’re nearing the end of our first audition episode. Will there still be time for Steven Tyler to leer at somebody?Â
9:52 p.m. No! We’re ending with a dude!
9:53 p.m. Our final contestant is Travis Orlando. He’s from the Bronx. He grew up in shelters. He’s only 16, but he seems a good deal more mature than that. His family is still living paycheck to paycheck and all he wants to do is help make life easier for his parents. You think he might be good? He sings “Eleanor Rigby,” mostly going off on his own melody and his own phrasing. Tyler asks to hear something else and Travis goes into Jason Mraz, which is far better. Randy asks Tyler what he thinks. Tyler, in turn, asks Randy what he thinks. J-Lo calls Travis’ voice “pretty” and “sweet.” Randy and Steven agree and Travis is going to Hollywood. There are tears and hugs aplenty.
9:58 p.m. Ryan tells us that a whopping 51 individuals were sent to Hollywood. For this, he deems New Jersey a success…
What’d you think? Did you see the next America Idol? Did you get any sense at all that J-Lo and Steven Tyler are going to be worthy contributors this season?