Earlier today I was thinking about how it was my favorite part of the Idol season, that sweet time when my hopes are up that things will be different and better, that time before I learn the truth. After tonight’s premiere of the 10th (for real?) season, I’m taking the plunge and definitively declaring that, at least so far, it’s not certain that this season will be worse than the last.
I actually was one of the people who was looking forward to the new lineup. While I cringed at Jennifer Lopez’s recent comeback attempts, I didn’t think the announcement of her as a judge was guaranteed shit. Excuse me if she doesn’t have the musical chops of a Susan Boyle, but she’s at least been in the business semi-recently and can do a good impression of a pleasant person. I thought it was a better idea that she form a new career identity as the beautiful, nice Idol judge rather than struggle to keep up with the Gagas of the world.
Meanwhile, Steven Tyler would at least bring a new type of energy to the judging panel (although I feared that he’d try too hard to be Cool Grandpa), and I anticipated that Randy Jackson’s annoying tics would be toned down without a Simon Cowell there to bring them out (like going “What?!” whenever Simon used a word that had more than three syllables).
As long as the season was different from last season, I’d be content, and I felt pretty sure that Nigel Lythgoe was going to do everything in his leonine power to make sure that worked. The talent last season was the equivalent of a restless, sweaty nap (I periodically forget that Lee DeWyze exists), which was made more apparent by the bloated, chemistry-free judging panel, contrasted by the stranger-than-ever dynamic between Ryan and Simon.
Lythgoe was determined to switch up the format of So You Think You Can Dance in its previous season and did that to mixed (and for the dancers, painful) results, but I’m the type of person who is happy when the producers of a show try to freshen things up. If things are different, at least we’ll have something new to talk about, right?
So here we are. After the fancy new intro, I was rolling my eyes at the flashbacks to the ca-razy roller coaster ride of Jennifer Lopez joining the judging panel and the heartbeat sound effect as we paused, breathless, to hear who this season’s judges were, even though we already knew. Then there was Steven Tyler, doing what rock stars do (hold Ryan Seacrest’s tie in their mouths), who has a swagger all his own (I swear to god, if the word “swagger” or “swag” gets used this season the way it did last time, I’m going to burn this show to the ground.) And there was lots, lots of footage of Jenny, Steven, Ryan, Randy and Jimmy Iovine walkin’ around together in slow motion. Because slo-mo is cool. Oh dear.
I wasn’t feeling the episode so far, dawg, and I didn’t either when the judges entered the audition room in New Jersey (“It’s true, they all start somewhere,” Randy said sagely, reading the words written on the set) and gave a pass to the first few contestants who would have been great in season I but not for X. I didn’t believe for one second that Jennifer Lopez remembered Rachel Zevita, who was cut in the audition process of Season 6 (who sang our season’s first “Hallelujah,”) and didn’t agree with Steven that she had the “what-it-is-ness.”
The judges then dithered over their first 15-year-old contestant, a very capable and mature-seeming performing arts student named Kenzie Palmer. The panel at this point seemed like it needed a leader, a leader in black t-shirt, tight and perfect for nipple-rubbing. She squeaked through, and we got a break in the form of a helpful lexicon of phrases commonly used in New Jersey, like “How are you doing?” and “Regarding it: forget!” Feeling fresh as a 10-year-old daisy.
But things started to change a little bit when Tiffany Rios, the girl with a face the shade of a small pumpkin and the stars pasted on her breasts auditioned (I like when she asked Ryan to look at her ass and he said “No”). I thought the whole thing would be a disaster when she started insta-crying upon gazing at La Lopez and then sang, of course, an original song. I thought maybe she was the second coming of Tatiana del Toro. But then she asked for a second chance and sang Celine Dion’s “I’m Your Lady.” While the girl was over-the-top in all the wrong ways, she could definitely sing. So at least all the clichés weren’t holding up—talent isn't just reserved for the appropriately dressed and falsely modest. Jennifer advised her to take herself a little more seriously (i.e. take the stars off your tits, honey), which was some good input. So Jennifer was actually useful, despite her initial apparent unwillingness to say “no” to the bad singers, which was annoying and probably excruciating for the contestants.
Our first sob story of the season came in the form of Robbie Rosen, who claims to have been in a wheelchair during most of his childhood, but conveniently there are no pictures to back this up. Sure, Robbie. He sang “Yesterday,” and I hated it, one of those renditions with the soulful looks punctuated by about 80 unnecessary additional notes. Of course the judges loved it. So there’s one of the show’s clichés that came right back: If you can muck up a song enough and seem like you’re deep, you’re special.
Then we got a look at a kind of creepy montage of Steven Tyler ogling the young female contestants, several of which didn’t seem like they minded one bit (“I have a crush on you! Oh, I probably shouldn’t have said that. Oops, my underwear keeps falling down!”). Maybe it was because Steven looked so much like a grandma in the scenes where he was wearing his glasses that I didn’t mind that much. I think the male judges have always objectified the pretty young things but just did it in a different way, and I think Steven’s had enough fresh meat thrown his way to know when he’s just paying a “compliment” versus being a legitimate creep. Time will tell.
My favorite weirdo of the night was Chris Cordeiro, the Boy Scout in the plaid shirt and hat. I think I just loved that he was eating a banana when he signed up for his audition (and I’m a sucker for when Idol uses a screaming, flying eagle as a joke). His version of “My Way” was inferior to the version his grandma sang on Seacrest’s chest. After him was another bad audition, Michael Perotto, the burping guy, but I had a feeling he was doing his whole bit on purpose. The judges threw a bone to the next oddball who came along, Ashley Sullivan, the possibly-unhinged showtunes singer who claimed Britney Spears and Liza Minnelli as her idols (that should tell you a lot right there). After she turned her face bright red and threw a fit, the judges let her through. I don’t see her going very far in Hollywood, but I can see her being deliciously insane during group night.
It was at this point that I realized that this audition episode, while not exactly the finest television I’ve ever seen, wasn’t too bad. There was a certain amount of negative energy when Kara DioGuardi was on the show, an anxiousness to prove that she deserved to be there and an obvious complex when Bikini Girl types came through the room. I don’t sense Jennifer Lopez caring too much what Steven Tyler thinks of her, nor being too ruffled if some trashy reality show wanna-be tries to sex it up in her face. And as much as I loved Simon, I don’t miss the parade of bad auditioners trotted out just for him to say mean things about. The show felt like it had shed some baggage (I noticed a lot more offscreen laughing tonight than I have in previous seasons.)
I especially enjoyed the judges’ reaction to young Victoria Huggins, an obvious Miley Cyrus cutout (I liked the show cutting to all the kids saying “I want this so bad!” after Victoria said “It is not normal for a 16 year old to want something very badly.”). Randy declared her “pageanty,” and J.Lo agreed. Steven seemed amused by what’s obviously a very steely showbiz determination hidden in the body of a 16 year old girl with big white teeth and a southern twang. It was awkward when Steven said she had “just the right amount showing” with her skirt (which actually wasn’t very short so I kind of agreed with what he said even if it sounded pervy). They let her through because she could sing, but I think they could see right through her. When she said, “This is very special,” you could sense she was thinking “...because I’m going to fucking win."
Fortunately there were a few girls who made it to Hollywood who seemed rather normal, too, like Melinda Ademi, the girl whose parents were Kosovo war refugees and Devyn Rush, the Times Square singing waitress.
When I was watching football on Sunday, I saw a promo for the show advertising the next contestant, Yoji “Pop” Asano as the contestant you absolutely have to see because he’s the super-crazy one we’ll all be talking about around the water cooler. Not really: he was a Japanese guy who sang “Party in the USA” badly and danced like Michael Jackson not that badly. There wasn’t that much to him, but I assume we’ll see him again at the finale.
The episode wrapped up with the accepts of two young auditioners with semi-sob stories, one a girl whose dad had lung cancer (but is better now) and a kid who lived in a homeless shelter with his family (but doesn’t now). Despite several shots of them looking off into the distance and whatnot, I didn’t think the sob story thing was too heavyhanded so far, but we haven’t yet gotten to the girl whose 95-year-old grandma will likely get Alzheimer’s one day so that’s sad or whatever. (Travis Orlando, the kid who used to live in a shelter, turned in another audition where a Beatles song, this time “Eleanor Rigby,” was unnecessarily curlicued, but he recovered with a Jason Mraz tune.)
We have about five thousand years before we actually get to the performance episodes, so I don’t want to make any premature predictions, but I am optimistic about this season, if just for the reason that it’s not going to be last season.
Tomorrow we pick things up in New Orleans!
- I really hope that by tomorrow night’s episode, someone has told Steven Tyler to lose the jingly-jangly Tiffany charm bracelet.
- Pretty pretty Jennifer held up just fine on my big HD, and surprisingly, Steven Tyler didn't look like a crumpled old paper bag either.
- I had a hard time discerning what exactly Steven was saying each time he got censored. He must have a very colorful curse vocabulary.
- If you’re a person who loves Idol dirt, you should check out my friend and colleague Richard Rushfield’s new book on the show. He knows all the stuff about the show you secretly want to know.
- What are your dream themes/mentors/musicals guests for this season? (My answers are: Hall & Oates/Dolly Parton/Robyn.)