Recap: ‘American Idol’ Season 14 Premiere

“American Idol” is back for Season 14 and it's important to remind you: The last two winners have been Candice Glover and Caleb Johnson.

For the past few years, the ability to make stars has been the thing “Idol” has used to set it apart from the higher-rated “Voice.” It's not like the coronation of Phillip Phillips, an artist with probably more album sales than every “Voice” winner combined, was that long ago, but in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, “Idol” could use another breakout soon. [Note that ratings were WAY down for “The Voice” this past season, as the NBC singing competition appears to have peaked and be heading into the predictable slide that almost all competition shows eventually go into. While pundits love to talk trash about the decline in “Idol” ratings, folks were oddly silent about “The Voice” in the fall. Shrug.]

Expect more declines for “Idol” this season, but a breakout, incandescent star might help.

So let's get down to the business of recapping Wednesday (January 7) night's premiere! With FOX sending out screeners, the live-blog times line up with episode time-code and not with any time from a real clock. Oh and Thursday's (January 8) two-hour episode is vastly better than tonight's premiere. Stick around.

[UPDATE: I hear there were a few differences between the original screener I watched and what FOX actually aired. Try to be amused by the little differences, because I'm sure not going back to rewatch!]

00:00 “Idol” went to 17 cities for auditions, apparently.  And the judges are going to their hometowns. As you know, that means Harry Connick Jr is going to New Orleans and Jenny is returning to Da Block.

01:00 But first? We're going to Nashville, which isn't really Keith Urban's hometown, but it's close enough that we're willing to pretend that it is. J-Lo is wearing six-inch heels and she's shiny.  Who will our first auditioner be?

02:00 Meet 19-year-old Mississippian Priscilla Barker. Her mother is in love with Keith Urban and she has 10 siblings, or the way she puts it “I am the baby of 10 siblings.” Does that mean she has nine siblings herself? Or that her parents have 11 kids? It's unclear if Keith Urban is responsible for any of those kids. There are 14 members of Pricilla's family standing out in the hall, a number that doesn't include Pricilla's “diddy.” Priscilla's got a guitar over her shoulder, but she doesn't actually use it for the first half of her “Delta Dawn” audition. Priscilla is utterly charming, but her star-power is questionable. Her voice is good, but not especially memorable. But she's memorable because of her accent and because her mother is terrifyingly desperate to meet Keith. “She doesn't sound safe at all,” Keith says. “We trained her,” Priscilla says reassuringly, as Keith shows off his battle scars. I love Harry's Bigfoot impression. Who knew Harry was a human muppet? J-Lo wanted something a bit more special and she says “No.” Harry, however, votes “Yes.” Keith says “Yes.” But will Priscilla's mother get to visit Keith? Yes. She gets a hug and doesn't do any damage. We're all relieved. But why did Priscilla get to be our season-starter?

06:55 New gimmick! Singers who advance get to sign their names to the Wall of Fame. Whee! But that was all we got before the season's first commercial break and that didn't seem like very much.

08:00 Nashvillians are very excited to meet the judges. [And J-Lo's singing a little Sam Cooke, joined on “Cupid” by Harry and Keith. J-Lo should always sing Sam Cooke, because that's a peanut butter/chocolate thing.] But clearly the best auditioner is the wide-eyed girl who eagerly anticipates meeting Nikki and Mariah. What? Not Kara Dioguardi? The idea that there might be different judges leaves her utterly flummoxed, especially the syllables “Ha-rry-Co-nick-Jr,” which she may never have heard before. 

09:10 While my first instinct was that the two-seasons-behind space cadet would never be seen before, but even though she thinks Nikki Minaj is still an “Idol” judge, Marisa Milele is actually going to get screen-time for her audition. She's a pro cheerleader, apparently and wants to prove she's a singer in addition to dancing. As a singer, Marisa has a very toned belly and some fine high kicks. As a dancer, unfortunately, she's got an awful voice. Farewell, Marisa. We hope you enjoyed being double-humiliated on “American Idol.”

10:15 Some guy with little bongo is mocked, but unnamed. Some guy with a blue shirt is mocked, but unnamed. Some guy who loses his hat is mocked, but unnamed, even though he doesn't necessarily seem bad enough to be worth the trouble.

11:45 Enter the vaguely Keith Urban-esque Riley Bria, who once played with Keith Urban at an awards show in 2012. Riley is even auditioning with a Keith Urban song. I'd say his energy is low, his voice is rather thin and pitchy on the high notes and we can't get a good sense of his vaunted guitar-playing, but I can imagine young girls voting for him happily. Harry and J-Lo praise Riley for how well he did without even trying. Keith tells Riley not to be afraid of digging in. He's going to Hollywood.

15:10 Mexican restaurant server Cam Bedell has a guitar and he's fine. Ali Jane Henderson does the semi-obligatory rearrangement of Britney Spears. Comical hipster Alex Renbarger talks about his endless blood, sweat and tears before doing a Bob Dylan Circa 1961 coffee shop performance. They're all advancing, none of them remarkable.

17:10 Appreciating J-Lo's prettiness and Leo-ness is Amber Kelechi Walker, who comes from “the hard part” of Memphis. Without music, she figures she's be in jail, pregnant or dead. “Music did save my life. I'm so glad that I have it,” Amber says. She bursts into a version of “Heartbreak Hotel” that almost certainly wasn't what the judges were expecting. There's a lot of passion in the performance, smoothing over some really rough spots and an excess of shouting. J-Lo votes “Yes.” Harry likes Amber, but thinks she needs more time and votes “No.” I'd probably agree with Harry. Keith votes “Yes” and Amber is going to Hollywood, but she gets autographs before she goes. Harry thinks Amber needs to study more, but J-Lo just doesn't want to send her back to the hood.

21:30 J-Lo likes the magic of the “Idol” crew and behind-the-scenes process. 

22:20 Representing Staten Island poorly is red-headed, memory-deficient rocker Kyle Blaine Corman. Kyle doesn't like little old ladies who want to touch Kyle's floppy red locks, so Harry goes over and runs his fingers through Kyle's hair. He sings “Give a Little Bit,” but calls it a Goo Goo Dolls song, which pretty much kills his rocker creed for me, no matter how much wailing and head-banging he's doing. The performance is so frantic and Carrot Toppy that I can't tell if Kyle is OK at any of the music he's playing. The judges are very uncomfortable. “You definitely have your own specific style,” J-Lo says. As J-Lo critiques his singing, Kyle tries to sing over her, forcing Keith to accuse him of being disrespectful. As he leaves in sadness, Kyle says that he lost his voice and tried to cover it with energy.

26:00 Farewell other people who don't have names, but had bad auditions. Is that a decision we've made this year? Fewer freaks? And no more identification of bad people? Other than Kyle?

27:00 Meet barista Kory Wheeler. He literally works at the coffee shop across the street. At 26, he's a bit old, but he's also the first performer of the episode who I can immediately point to as having a distinctive voice and a notable guitar contribution. His version of “I Can't Make You Love Me” is maybe a bit nasally, but it's honest and emotional. He's perhaps just a bit David Cook-y, appearance-wise. J-Lo got goosies. On her legs. Why don't we get to see? The judges are pleased. Kory's going to Hollywood, but first he has to go back to his place of employ to get a full day off.

31:00 It's time for Michael Simeon, who has a strange request. He doesn't want to keep working on the farm in Mississippi. He does a Sam Smith cover with just a bit of affected gruffness. I imagine this performance plays like gangbusters at his Ole Miss frat. It also plays well in the judging room. He's going to Hollywood, but first he asks J-Lo if she'll dance with him. He requests accompaniment from Keith, while Harry joins in on the piano. Michael doesn't know how to slow dance, but J-Lo coaches and makes a man of him. This is all quite odd, because he's got J-Lo in his arms, but Michael keeps singing “Stay with Me” and it isn't really creepy, but it also isn't sweet. It's just a thing that happened. “I've gotta say, I'm a little bit jealous,” Harry laments. “I'm a great girlfriend and wife. I just pick the wrong [bleeping] guys,” J-Lo declares. Awww?

35:50 Ryan Seacrest can't believe we're in Season 14. He's feeling old. You wanna know what's gonna make everybody feel old? Meet Emily Brooke. She's 15 and she believes that Ryan Seacrest spoke to her through her television and told her to audition. I'm not sure if we're supposed to take this as a sign of some sort of dissociative disorder. Emily is at least good enough that she was able to set her heart on reaching this goal, earning money to get to Nashville doing gigs. “You actually look 15,” a relieved Harry tells her. As we figured she had to be, Emily is darned good. I don't think Emily knows who she is yet as a vocalist. She starts with a breathy affectation, but then pushes it aside and growls for a while and when she gets to the chorus of “Blown Away,” she's just singing pure-and-simple. I'm positive in five years that Emily will be much better, but she's quite fine now. J-Lo felt like Emily was singing to her. Harry thinks she's cool. Keith likes her raw talent. “I have to do this. This is what I'm meant to do,” Emily says. “She might have the most potential of anyone we've seen,” Harry says after sending Emily to Hollywood.

Who'd you like tonight? Anybody actually stand out?