What has Fox done to our "American Idol"?
They warned us this season would be more aspirational, less cutthroat, in keeping with the times, but kicking off in Phoenix with Louie Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" over shots of judge Simon Cowell actually smiling, the traditional Weeping Winners reel --- and a rainbow? Plus: shots of Simon winking. A shot of a huge man in a pink bunny suit picking Simon off the ground in a Big Bunny Hug. The treacle is running in rivers.
"I am the voice in the crowd that needs to be heard," some wannabe Idolette says to the camera.
"I am a dream," declares another.
"I am a superstar in the making!" boasts yet another.
This show is not about the destination, "it's about the journey itself," host Ryan Seacrest warns.
The've added a fourth judge and now the show looks like "The View." "Idol" newcomer Kara DioGuardi has major recording chops, and was presumed to have been added to ratchet up the Paula Abdul crazy, but, in the first episode at least, she adds little to the returning mix of Abdul, Cowell, and Randy Jackson. As in seasons past, Jackson seems to have had some kind of a makeover -- this appears to be his Botox season.
Fortunately, the "Idol" producers still feel compelled to service fans of the Spectacularly Lousy and the Surprisingly Good Auditions.
Very first seen auditioner of "American Idol '09": Paint-by-Numbers Michael Jackson Guy. Buhbye!
Emily of the So I Will Never Have to Sit in an Office tattoos is made out to be a heartless wench for having left her band to audition for "Idol." "Just forget friendship, loyalty," Simon sneers. Atta boy, Simon!
Crying Rockstar in a Box Guy is next, promising this will either be his Moment to shine (not), or he will, like the comet -- which comet he does not say -- be a bright shining star and crash to the ground. Mostly, he just cries buckets, and sheds his most bitter tears when Whoopi, Elizabeth, Joy, Sherri and Babs don't send him through to Hollywood, despite the fact that he has suffered mightily for his art, having nearly sweat to death in leather pants for a full day in the scorching Arizona sun.
J.B. is one of those good performers you like to see, hoping to make it through to Hollywood because "this is my chance to change my life...to help out the family," but his moment is marred when Fox splashes a Jump the Shark-esque Ford Focus banner across the screen during his segment.
Note to Fox: if you're working that hard to tug at our heartstrings, why would you go and wreck the moment with crass commercial overtones? Have the little Ford Focus car race across the screen when Simon and Paula are arguing. Better fit.
Michael Gurr sounds like a cat in heat; X-Ray leaves all four judges speechless. Perky, good-deed-doing Arianna Afsar is one of a slew of 16-year-olds seen auditioning in Phoenix -- an obvious attempt to beef up the show's dwindling younger audience.
"I think we're going to find some incredible talent here," says New Judge Kara at the start of the second day in Phoenix, making us feel foolish for having said she doesn't seem to be really bringing anything new to the mix.
Elijah Scarlett is lousy, which is too bad, given his stunning deep voice. After that it's Scary Pink Songbook Girl -- who says she's Kara's biggest fan and/or a cross between Hillary Duff and Madonna, which should have set off about a dozen red flags after this year's "Idol" tragedy.
Lovely Stevie Wright sings Etta James, which puts her ahead of the pack, though Simon tells her to "grow teeth" because she's not cruel enough to make it in the biz.
After a huge roughneck guy gets through because he sounds so sweet, it's time for Nasal Bikini Babe -- another "American Idol" first.
The addition of Kara means there's now an even number of judges -- but Simon's vote gets extra weight. This explains why Nasal Bikini Babe is on her way to Hollywood, despite an appreciable lack of singing talent. She does, however, have long legs, and she knows how to wear a very small bikini and tramp things up, prattling on happily about how much attention the get-up has brought her and promising Seacrest she will make out with him if she gets sent through to Hollywood. Seacrest's reaction is something along the lines of "Uh....Idol!"
Simon naturally loves her audition, pronouncing it "beautiful" before it has barely begun, so to speak. Ditto Tweedle Dum Jackson. Kara and Paula naturally disagree and Kara belts out a few bars to show Nasal Bikini Babe how it should have sounded, adding with a head wag, "Honestly, you don't have the chops to sing that song, sweetie."
"But your demonstration wasn't any better," NBB says. Oh snap!
With Simon and Randy both voting "yes," the chick vote doesn't matter. "Next time, come naked," Kara sneers. Nasal Bikini Babe rolls her eyes, as though somehow she's just been insulted.
Outside the audition room, Seacrest asks NBB why she thought the judges put her through to the next round of the competition.
"I think it was my voice. And the bikini."
She then makes out with Ryan, and jumps in the pool.
Something for the chicks: a guy who calls himself Sexual Chocolate, and who Simon insists on calling just "Sexual" as in, "Thank you, Sexual." He's no worse than NBB, but doesn't make it through.
Mixed bag follows, highlighted by Geek Closet Singer, who learned to sing in a moldy closet that made him sick. You can't make this stuff up. He sails through, but is trumped by the season debut's closing Aspirational Act: Scott MacIntyre, who was born virtually blind and is now a pianist and singer. He gets four votes to go to Hollywood after being pronounced "a cool guy."
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