Goodness gracious! We’re back. Season 13 of “American Idol” is here and it’s time to get our first look at the judging panel featuring Jennifer “Where’s Steven Tyler At?” Lopez, Keith “Don’t Accidentally Call Me Karl” Urban and Harry “The Savior” Connick Jr.
We’re starting off with auditions from Boston and Austin, which were either selected for the premiere because the cities rhyme or because FOX likes to foreground the best audition episodes. Two years ago on “Idol,” if you’ll recall, I declared Phillip Phillips the “American Idol” winner during that first audition episode. And this year, with “X Factor,” FOX fooled me into committing to the full season by putting Alex & Sierra into that premiere.
So if tonight’s premiere is horrible, that’s a wicked bad sign. If it’s awesome, however, don’t make any grand, sweeping pronouncements about “Idol” being back. Anything can happen!
With that in mind, for the first time since the very first season, FOX made the *full* first audition episode available to critics early. Very early. If it were awful, they would not have don’t that. So I’m hopeful and that’s what I’m recapping off of, so the time code is screener time code and not airing time code.
Click through, follow along and sound off on your favorite contestants!
00:00:05 TIME CODE. So much for Boston and Austin already. We’re starting in October 2013 in Detroit. We’re starting with a rather gorgeous young lady who looks a tiny bit like Beyonce if Beyonce had short hair and played the guitar. She goes through some decompression chamber and arrives in front of the judges. She’s 17-year-old Marielle Sellars. She’s singing Bruno Mars and while I think she has some vocal limitations, especially on the low parts of the song, she’s a natural performer, expressive and full of swagger. “You are going to be a nightmare for the other competitors,” Harry says. “Wow,” J-Lo says, praising her tone and presence. “I loved it,” Keith says, tearing a Golden Ticket in a third and giving her his third. Presumably the other two contribute pieces as well. Will Randy Jackson show up with tape?
00:03:15 Boston! I love that dirty water. Boston Strong, baby! Go Sox! Etc. We meet a string of people holding up signs and talking into cameras. Who needs Ryan Seacrest? Oh. Foxboro. We need to stop pretending Foxboro is Boston. Oh. There’s Seacrest. The judges show up. Jennifer Lopez is pretty. The two guys are chummy. Harry says that the process is completely different from his new seat. “It’s their big moment,” Keith says, emphasizing what presumably will be a theme this season: It’s about the contestants, not about catfights between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. We tried that. It didn’t work. What kind of judge will Harry be? He says he has to be honest.
00:05:35. Who will get Boston’s first ticket? Will it be Troy Durden? I have immediate concerns. He has the inflated ego of a “freak” contestant. He says people give him standing ovations when he sings and he’s got what it’ll take. Oy. And it gets worse. He loves to twerk. “I’m not much of a twerker these days,” J-Lo says politely. Troy twerks. Poorly. “I can twerk better than that,” J-Lo says. PROVE IT! Oh my goodness. J-Lo throws down the twerking gauntlet and then backs out, saying she isn’t wearing her twerking outfit. Unacceptable, “American Idol.” And then Troy sings. Ha. Fooled us all. Troy’s good. He launches into a nuanced, slightly oversung version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I could sure do without the closing falsetto, but at least he’s good. “I would like to see ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ while twerking,” Keith suggests. Tyler is nothing if not willing to please. J-Lo is hypnotized but, again, she does not twerk. Tyler gets three “Yes” votes, but before he leaves, J-Lo wisely cautions that he needs to take things seriously, too, telling him “to work” on that. This sounds like “twerk,” but once again, J-LO DOES NOT TWERK. Epic fail, “American Idol.” Epic. Fail. But good for Tyler. “It is a longshot, but it just might twerk,” Harry and Keith say together.
00:08:55. “We’re so back,” J-Lo says.
00:09:15 Enter Sam Woolf, from Florida. He’s got a history of family problems and he’s living with his very sweet grandparents. Sam is the season’s first White Guy With Guitar. He’s 17 and I’d say that he’s very good. Singing Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House,” he has range, knowing phrasing and he strums reasonably well. You can see his youth in how internalized his performance is, in how little he’s playing to the judges, but I’d happily listen more to this kid. Keith loves his pitch and his speed on the song. J-Lo felt that he opened up like a flower. Harry doesn’t like that Sam has a tattoo and Harry’s own 17-year-old daughter is gonna want one too. Yes, Harry Connick Jr. has a 17-year-old daughter. You know why? Because YOU’RE OLD. Otherwise, Harry is a big ol’ fan. “I’m gonna say ‘No’ to the tattoo, but ‘Yes’ to you,” Harry says. Three “Yes” votes for Sam, who’s heading to Hollywood. “I would go and listen to that,” Harry says, predicting all of his daughters will like Sam. “This is my amazing boy who never ceases to amaze me,” Sam’s grandpa says. Awwwwwww.
00:13:00 Sad people! Happy people! Cocky people! Humble people! Loud annoying people! Clear freaks!
00:14:00 “This is your story, America. This is your show,” Ryan says. This year, we’ve introduced The Chamber, “the last stop before the biggest moment in their lives.” Basically, it’s a confessional room next to the audition room. And now we’re introducing our judges. J-Lo! Keith! [Can we discuss how much happier and more relaxed Keith already looks?] Harry! More than anything, Harry wants a dogfight. Not literally.
00:16:50 Let’s see some talent! Second White Guy With Guitar! It’s Ethan Thompson and I’d say he’s not quite as good as Sam Woolf, but he’s older than Sam and thus more comfortable. If you like breathy teens, you’ll probably like Lindsey Pedicone, a student from Pennsylvania. She doesn’t immediately pass my “genuine or affected” test, what with her giant cat tee-shirt and “American Idol” aspirations that date back to when she was five, but I often find that I need two or three performances from raspy-voiced Old Soul teens before I fully catch their vibes. Lindsey’s voice is good enough, though. Wait. Is “American Idol” really going to pretend that we don’t remember Jillian Jensen from “X Factor”? In Season 2, she was nervous and she cried a lot and she was paired with a Mean Girl in Boot Camp? I don’t think she had a guitar. Now she does. I actually liked Jillian a ton on “X Factor,” where she didn’t make the Top 16, and I like her now, too. They all get “Yes” votes and Jillian scores a hug from Harry, who she loved on “Will * Grace.
00:19:15. It’s time to meet Taylor “Freaking” Hildack. She’s “a jazz vocalist at a community college.” That’s not a job. Despite being “a jazz vocalist,” she does a really boring Carrie Underwood cover. Don’t get me wrong, she can sing somewhat and she’s got long legs, but there was nothing even vaguely interesting about that. Keith felt like her range was limiting. Harry thinks Taylor is good, but not great, but that she might get better if she practices. J-Lo gives Taylor a “Yes.” Harry votes “No,” which makes sense since he calls her voice “grating.” And Keith votes “No.” Wow. You don’t usually see the men ganging up and voting out the attractive girls. J-Lo says that it was a huge mistake.
00:22:00. Time for a montage of tough love? Harry calls J-Lo “cold-hearted,” but she says the have to have higher standards. And it’s Harry who tells one singer that she’s grown up in a time when they have pitch-correcting software “and you could really use it.” Keith makes somebody cry, because it isn’t enough to want it bad. J-Lo makes a girl cry even though she’s adorable. “It’s the worst part of the job,” Harry says. “You’re so good at it, though,” J-Lo responds.
00:23:45. Let’s get back to some talent. Will 16-year-old Jersey Girl Stephanie Hanvey have talent? Well, she looks a bit like a more wholesome Junior Snooki and she lists J-Lo as a musical idol. “You open so many doors for Latinas,” Stephanie tells J-Lo. Actually, I take back the “Snooki” reference. Stephanie deserves better. She seems like a fairly normal kid with a better-than-normal voice. Me? I’d tell her to take two years of schooling and come back, but I won’t begrudge the judges if they want her to learn on-the-job. “I think you have a voice that needs some time to develop,” Harry says correctly. J-Lo worries that there was something emotionally lacking. Guess we’ll have to wait for a commercial.
00:26:00. The judges prepare to vote. Keith goes “Yes.” J-Lo felt it was too inconsistent, but votes “Yes.” Harry insists he was a “Yes” vote as well and Stephanie is going to Hollywood. There’s crying and collapsing and a very sweet hug between Stephanie and J-Lo. “I’m just honored to be here and grateful,” Stephanie says. Now I feel bad about even mentioning Snooki.
00:27:30. Stephanie isn’t the only person who loves J-Lo. Morgan Deplitch, a 15-year-old, also idolizes Ms. Lopez. “Not you so much, Harry,” Keith cracks. Morgan reassures Harry that her mother loves him. Morgan has a very big voice, but it definitely needs seasoning and maturing. For me, it’s shouting that needs much more smoothing and developing. J-Lo is impressed with her confidence at 15. Harry thinks that Morgan needs to find songs that are age-appropriate. “You’re such a dad!” J-Lo laughs. “I wasn’t bothered by the song choice at all,” Keith says. “Well, you’re from Australian,” Harry responds. It’s still three “Yes” votes for Morgan.
00:30:35 Out next contestant has a snazzy jacket, an amusing drawl and he’s introduced sleeping in the waiting room, so I’m sure he’s going to be mad talented. His mom picked out his jacket and gave him her TJ Maxx discount. He’s James Earl and he has Harry Connick Jr.’s stamp of “cool” approval. He aspired to nothing less than being Luther Vandross or Michael Jackson or R. Kelly. It keeps getting better. James is singing an original called “Everything In Life.” It’s a hilarious mixture of key changes and vocal affectations. “Just a little razzle-dazzle,” James says. Harry repeats, again, that James is cool, but says he can’t sing. James is graciously Boomhauer-esque. They ask James if he has other skills. Jokes! Why did the dog go in the water? Because he didn’t want to be a hot dog. “I love your many talents, but it’s a ‘No’ for me,” Keith says.
00:34:00. Back to people who are less cool than James, but probably more talented. I’m fine with Jacquelina Verna, though she’s pretty dull after Mr. Earl. Keith is impressed, but Harry says he’s not as wowed by pentatonics. Well, Harry might as well be talking like Earl for all the sense that makes to Jacquelina. It’s a “No” for her and Harry has to explain pentatonics to J-Lo. “What’s wrong with challenging America?” Harry asks, before explaining musical fundamentals to J-Lo.
00:35:40. I’m disturbed by 17-year-old Austin Percario and his clingy mom. Austin is very nearly 18 and he’s looking forward to going to Hollywood without his mother. Austin brings his mother in to cry for the judges. She does. She also rocks back and forth nervously, which Austin gets a kick out of. I’m relieved she doesn’t fix his hair with fingers-and-spit. Austin’s cover of “Titanium” is crazy cheesy and nasally, but I’d still like him to escape from his mother. Can I vote for him to get a ticket to go someplace that isn’t Hollywood? “I can see you doing this,” J-Lo says. “It’s like Justin Bieber at 5 a.m.,” Keith posits. It’s three “Yes” votes for Austin. “I’m going to Hollywood without my mom,” Austin crows.
00:39:11. Excitable teen Kaitlyn Jackson wrote a song called “Another Angel.” It’s about the heart attack her grandfather had when she performed at a county fair when she was 11. I’m not sure what to say about her song. It’s really, really literal. I mean, it’s terrifyingly and uncomfortably literal and makes me yearn for figurative language. Then again, there’s a pleasing country melody to it and her voice is nice. And it’s not like some successful country songs aren’t excruciatingly literal. Everybody agrees that her grandpa is listening in heaven. Kaitlyn gets three “Yes” votes.
00:42:00. Split screens. Everywhere split screens. It’s Day 2 in Boston and Keith London came from Pennsylvania. He’s trying out so that he can make enough money to pay off his student lones. He’s also a White Guy With Guitar, doing a remixed version of a Katy Perry track. It’s a nice arrangement and Keith is a talented guy. I don’t know if he’s a star, but like all White Guys With Guitars, he’s worth remembering in case they go on to win. “OK. Stop. I don’t want you to ruin it… I like that song and you just made me like it more,” J-Lo gushes. Harry is awesome. He immediately cuts through the BS of these stripped down arrangements of over-produced pop songs, which are staples of the WGWG genre. Keith and J-Lo both say “Yes.” “Honestly, I don’t think you’re a good enough singer,” says Harry, whose vote is irrelevant.
00:46:00 Sigh. Sam Atherton from Taunton, Massachusetts is convinced he’s going to win. He’s written many songs and he’s sure that the ladies are infatuated with him. He’s so good at singing and playing that he boasts that he doesn’t practice anymore. Sam is insufferable. I would prefer not to spend anymore time with him. And he wants to sing three songs for the judges. He starts with an original called “Love Doesn’t Last Forever.” He’s bad, but bad in a boring way. “It wasn’t good,” Harry tells him. Three “No” votes for Sam. Sam leaves laughing maniacally and mocking the musical credentials of the three judges. Bye!
00:49:30. Everybody loves Jennifer Lopez and wants to sing to her. The reactions from Harry and Keith are a little bit hilarious. Do we think Harry’s real IQ is 143? Anyway…
00:50:45. New feature! “You Be The Judge.” You have to tweet-predict whether the judges will put a singer through or send her home. Of course, your vote doesn’t mean anything. But at least you’re involved. We start with Erin Christine oversinging “House of the Rising Sun.”
00:51:20. She advances. OK.
00:51:46. Wow. A clip package built on Ryan Seacrest’s background as a high school football player. I know Ryan was huskier back in the day, but I’m gonna say this with confidence: A football team’s quality is surely in inverse proportion to the amount of time that Ryan Seacrest is able to play offensive line for it. Ryan also trips over things. It’s a set-up for Shanon Wilson, a much more plausible former football player. He’s mighty Velvet Teddybear-esque, right up til he hits a very, very, very strange and unexpected falsetto for the second half of the performance. J-Lo loves the falsetto and gives Shanon his ticket to Hollywood. I’d thought he was good right up until the falsetto, so… OK.
00:54:30. Why hello, Patriots’ cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli, who comes to the audition in her Patriots’ garb. Oh, I couldn’t love Stephanie more. I mean… Cheerleader for my football team and she’s got a good voice? Come on. Some of what I love about her voice, of course, is the rasp that apparently comes from over-rehearsing. But still. Team Stephanie. “I was watching your abdomen,” Harry says, worrying that Stephanie sings too much from her throat. Jennifer disagrees. “Jennifer, I would slap you on national television,” Harry says problematically, before admitting that he wouldn’t. J-Lo and Keith both say Stephanie had more soul than they expected. Harry votes “No.” J-Lo votes “Yes.” And Keith votes “Yes.” Excellent. Stephanie hugs everybody, even Harry, and then she’s joined by three cheerleading friends. “If there’s four of them, it’s a yes! I didn’t know that was part of the package,” Harry says. Keith and Harry both attempt to show that they can do the splits. They cannot. J-Lo probably can, but nobody asks her to try. This is nearly as bad as the not-twerking.
00:59:00. We’re finally off to Austin, starting stereotypically with mariachi Jacob Flores. He’s actually quite fine with his guitar. I can’t tell if he advanced or not.
01:00:00. Keith’s wearing a “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirt, which would be like wearing a Keith Urban t-shirt to a Keith Urban concert.
01:01:00. “You guys are totally real,” gushes 17-year-old Durann Cree. Her mom thinks Keith smells good. She’s very high school. Harry tells Durann that she may be a big fish in a small pond at her school. J-Lo votes “Yes.” Harry votes “No” and Keith also votes “No,” sending Durann out in tears.
01:02:30. Time for some people who suck. I won’t honor them with names.
01:03:20. And now some people are good, but “Idol” isn’t honoring them with names.
01:03:50. Once more into The Chamber. When the light goes green, it’s showtime. Right now, it’s showtime for Savion Wright. Interesting. This is one of our first trips home for emotional sob stories. He has ADHD and music is his medicine. Savion has waited eight years to audition for “Idol,” waiting until he thought he was finally ready. He’s especially excited to see Harry, even when Harry tries to throw him off the scent by pretending that he’s actually Chris Isaac. We’ve had a lot of originals tonight, but the key difference is that Savion’s original is musically complicated and, as it hits its hook, catchy as heck. Harry suggests that the other competitors are going to be very intimidated by him. “There’s a real performer there,” J-Lo says. After they string poor Savion along by saying it’s a “No,” Savion gets his “Yes” and he also gets a hug from J-Lo. Win.
01:08:10. Wacky hijinks backstage on Day 2 in Austin.
01:09:10. People are excited in The Chamber. Terrica Curry has two mothers. He also has the biggest voice we’ve heard tonight. Justin Fira has ethnicity of some sort, but he also has a guitar. He may be a Latino Guy With Guitar. Shelby Comey mumbles and yodels and comes from cowboy stock. All three get an assortment of “Yes” votes. “You are so handsome to me,” Terrica tells Keith. “And I’m just me?” Harry asks. Why did Ryan Seacrest attempt to lift Shelby’s father?
01:11:03. On to Georgia’s Madelyn Patterson, who may be the most Southern belle in the history of Southern belles. She’s got a dynamite voice, though like nearly everybody else tonight, there’s some oversinging. And long legs and cowboy boots. I’m just reporting the facts. The judges blather incoherently before sending Madelyn through to Hollywood. Harry tries to give Madelyn some advice, probably about the overuse of runs, but she can’t be bothered to hear because she sees the ticket to Hollywood. Harry promises he’ll try to teach her in Hollywood. I’m like Harry a lot. This isn’t surprising.
01:14:10. Inexplicable “Brady Bunch” montage! Will Jordan Grizzard be able to sing? He was raised without a father, but now he’s trying hard to be a good father himself. His daughter is extremely cute. “Idol” has a history of success with worship pastors and Jordan’s version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is definitely good enough to see him through to Hollywood. The performance closes strong and even Harry is pleased, raving that Jordan went down a minor scale. Harry is very invested in letting you know that he knows music. The judges give the ticket to Jordan’s daughter and Jennifer threatens to eat her legs.
01:18:10. Two people guitars! One White Guy and one White Gal. But first? Viviana Villalon plays the ukelele. It’s a gimmick, but she’s not bad at all. Savannah Young is much more obviously commercial, a 17-year-old blonde, but must we keep hearing slowed down covers of “Toxic”? Just let Alex & Sierra have that one, OK? Ben Boone has a bit more blues in his veins than I would have predicted. Ben gave J-Lo… GOOSIES! They’re all going to Hollywood.
01:19:45 p.m. Lots of people have guitars. Guitars everywhere. Malcolm Allen is jealous, so he plays an air guitar. He’s able to get away with it because his Stevie Wonder cover is superior. I’d compare Malcolm to Burnell from last year. I liked Burnell last year. And Malcolm is going to Hollywood. He’s Burnell with swagger. We may see him again.
01:22:06. We were doing so well. Then things went south. Some guy thinks J-Lo is so beautiful that it makes him cry. He was never planning on meeting her “this soon,” which is crazy creepy, as his his tendency to keep calling her “Jennifer Lopez.” “I want to crush your face,” J-Lo says. His name is Roland Guerrero. And… On to the next person please. Roland’s not advancing.
01:24:40. This is sad. Montage of people who don’t know who Harry is. People are dumbasses.
01:25:44. Yay! A creepy guy who knows Harry and reads his Wikipedia page overnight. Harry runs over and gives him a hug and lifts him. “If you blow us away on the first song, I’d like to pick you up and hold you like a baby on the second,” Harry promises him. We’re all expecting Munfarid Zandi to be awful and then… the dude’s got the tone of an angel. He’s jazzy and confident and rangy. Harry runs over and lifts him for his second solo. It’s a marvelous moment. It’s also a colonialistic nightmare, but it’s marvelous. Munfarid gets a ticket and Harry carries him to the door.
01:28:45. Everybody’s happy for Keith. Everybody’s happy to be going to Hollywood. There were 21 Golden Tickets from Austin and 24 from Boston.
So… What’d you think of tonight’s auditions? Did you like any of the singers? And what do you think of the judges?