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Posted at 11:00 PM ET, 01/19/2011

'American Idol' premieres: New judges, same old show

By Lisa de Moraes

The new "Idol" judges in New Jersey for the first round of auditions. (Frank Micelotta/Fox) Click image to see gallery.

Note: Lisa de Moraes will blog about "American Idol's" Season 10. But for the premiere, WaPo Team TV's Emily Yahr gives you a recap:

Worried that "American Idol" would be unrecognizable after some major revamping (new judges, new age limits, new in-house mentor who really runs the show, etc.) that took place over the last year? Good news! Nothing's changed.

Same dramatic music, same talk about making people's dreams come true, same sob stories with predictable tickets to Hollywood. It's comforting, or it's a snoozefest -- take your pick.

The show tries to ramp things up in the beginning. "FORGET WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNEW ... BECAUSE THE BEST ... IS YET TO COME" flashes across the screen over a montage of all the hysterical speculation over who would replace the departing Simon Cowell, kicked-to-the-curb Kara DioGuardi and unfortunate disaster Ellen DeGeneres.

Of course, we've all known for months the slots are filled with singer/actress/former "In Living Color" dancer Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler, so the slow-motion intros are unnecessary. Randy Jackson, the only surviving judge from seasons past, pipes up to say he's happy to share the spotlight with two industry icons. Or, you know, still be gainfully employed -- whatever. And Jimmy Iovine, the new "in house mentor" and Interscope Records chairman who will sign the winner to a recording contract, gets a quick intro.

Now that we've been introduced to a "music mastermind and superstar panel," 15 minutes later, it's time to get to the auditions, starting in New Jersey.

Up first is Rachel Zevita, 22, a rerun auditioner because she already gave it a shot in Season 6. J-Lo claims to remember exactly who she's looking at, even though this Rachel has her frizzy hair much more under control. She sings Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and hits super high notes that startle the judges. Steven Tyler thinks she's a flower, which they need to water and let grow. Oh good, he's the new Paula. Then Rachel accidentally insults Randy Jackson by telling him she's nervous because she's sung in front of "famous" judges before, but never anyone she looks up to. Therefore, we accept when she's given a golden ticket.

Caleb Hawley, 25, croons "Hallelujah I Love Her So" by Ray Charles, and Steven Tyler senses he needs some help, letting out one of his trademark screams at the end. J-Lo thinks Caleb is cute, which we soon learn is code for "You're going to Hollywood." And so he does.

Yoji "Pop" Asano. (Fox)

Next up is the first 15-year-old contestant, now the youngest age possible for auditions since "Idol" lowered the age limit by a year. Kenzie Palmer belts out "Young and Beautiful" by Carrie Underwood, and does a decent job, but the judges disagree. Oh no! First fight of the season already? Not so much -- they respectfully disagree with Steven Tyler's opinion that she didn't have enough "pizzazz," but work through their problems rationally and send her to Hollywood. Well, that's no fun.

At this point, two contestants have cried, but both have been from joy. Where's the deal, "Idol"? Simon Cowell would not stand for this. J-Lo seems thrilled at how easy it is to say "yes," but then strolls in Achille Lovle, 25, who sings a Madonna tune. "Sing" may be the wrong word, as she may be tone deaf, and Steven Tyler tells her her melody's all over the place. As Achille explains it's because of her accent, J-Lo is forced to tell her that it's not so much about the accent, just about the singing.

"Oh my god, I hate this. Why did I sign up for this?" J-Lo wails, as the contestant dejectedly leaves. "I want to go home!"

If you had a bet going as to how long it would take "Idol" to make the first "Jersey Shore" reference, the answer is: 32 minutes. Seacrest introduces Jersey as "The place that made fist pumping so famous" before introducing us to Tiffany Rios, a 21-year-old who obviously graduated from the Snooki School of Over Spray-Tanning and Teased Hair Design.

Tiffany Rio got through to the Hollywood round. (Fox)

But Tiffany breaks down in tears before her audition starts, because, she explains, J-Lo is her role model. J-Lo gives her a comforting hug. This gives Tiffany all the confidence she needs to whip off her jacket, revealing two strategically placed metal stars over her bikini top. She sings her own song with the line, "America needs me/For higher ratings on TV." The judges inexplicably agree, and put her through to Hollywood after she puts her jacket back on (to remain tasteful) and sings a more calmed-down version of Celine Dion's "Power of Love."

"An interesting decision for our judges," Seacrest remarks. Simon Cowell would have never stood for this foolishness.

Finally, we have a typical montage of several people in a row butchering songs. J-Lo respectfully averts her eyes from the trainwrecks.

Then, the first sad story of the night: Robbie Rosen, an adorable 16-year-old who was in a wheelchair when he was younger. With a soulful version of "Yesterday" by the Beatles, he's reminiscent of David Archuleta without the creepy stage parent issues. J-Lo says they don't even need to call for a vote; Robbie's through to Hollywood.

In an "Idol" two-hour episode, filler is a must, so tonight we get contestants telling the cameras which judge they're most excited to meet. (One hilariously responds "Ellen.") Then we see Steven Tyler getting hit on by various female contestants (fawning over his "sexy" mouth) and he returns the sentiments. "Where is your pitchfork, you little devil?" he purrs to one woman.

Then, back to the terrible auditions. After one particularly heinous performance from Chris Cordeiro, 19, whose version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" just sounds like groaning, J-Lo asks Randy, "How did you do this for 10 years?"

Note to J-Lo: He's probably dead inside.

A montage of one auditioner burping (yes, it's come to that) causes Steven Tyler to thoughtfully ask Michael Perotto, 19, "Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?"

"Is it all over the place?" Michael asks, confused as to why his "Proud Mary" performance failed to wow.

"Yeah ... well, 'American Idol' has a higher standard here," says Steven Tyler, who is wearing a polka dot shirt and what appears to be a feather dream-catcher earring.

Ashley Sullivan, 25, becomes the most awkward contestant to ever audition -- she breaks out in jittery, Britney Spears-esque dance moves when she's nervous. She maniacally belts out "Gimme Gimme" from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" with an angry expression on her face and stuns the judges into silence. J-Lo offers a meek "You belong on Broadway," but when Ashley starts hysterically begging and crying on her knees, they put her through. Steven Tyler promises to "work her into something good."

Ashley Sullivan begged and pleaded, and ultimately made it to Hollywood. (Fox)

Cheerful Victoria Huggins, 16, is so annoyingly optimistic that even the burping contestant seems preferable. She sings "Midnight Train to Georgia," and is so desperate that she throws out a "yo yo dawg" to appeal to Randy. The judges fall for her tricks, and she gets a Hollywood ticket.

Melinda Ademi, 16, has a new sad story: She's the daughter of Kosovo war refugees. After her parents talk about all the opportunities in America, Melinda wows the judges and makes it through.

A singing waitress, 20-year-old Devyn Rush, gets insulted several times by the judges, who are not impressed with her jeans and t-shirt. Randy notes she's not dressed for the part, but since she has a gorgeous voice, she goes through. Steven Tyler notes that she needs to go clothes shopping.

A few more hopeless contestants go through before we get to Yoji "Pop" Asano, 25, this year's watered-down version of William Hung and "Pants on the Ground" guy, as he claims he's a great Michael Jackson imitator. He refuses to channel his Michael Jackson impression, and instead busts out some sweet dance moves to Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA" that puts Miley's dancing to shame. Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler are so not impressed.

The last two sad stories of the night include Brielle Von Hugel, a 16-year-old whose dad has throat cancer; she's very sweet, and tells the judges it was an honor meeting them after they approve of her version of "Endless Love." And finally, Travis Orlando, 16, who grew up with "gangs, drugs, violence" and has a family living paycheck to paycheck, makes it through to Hollywood after a rendition of "Eleanor Rigby."

Ryan Seacrest notes that 51 people made it through to Hollywood, and urges everyone to watch the New Orleans audition episode Thursday night -- which, and we're only guessing, will probably be remarkably similar to this one.

By Lisa de Moraes  | January 19, 2011; 11:00 PM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: 'American Idol: The Reboot' debuts tonight
Next: About 26 million check out Steven Tyler and JLo on "Idol" Wednesday


Steve Tyler looks like he will exceed expectations.

Ashley Sullivan! What do they put in the water up in Massachusetts?? The girl's whackier than Cape Cod native Siobhan Magnus. But Magnus seems to have a lot more talent and uniqueness than Sullivan,

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | January 20, 2011 5:56 AM | Report abuse

I got bored just reading the summary of the show. I could not imagine having to sit through the same boring routine for the tenth year in a row. I stopped watching after season 4. Put a fork in this one. It's way overdone.

Posted by: dlpetersdc | January 20, 2011 6:39 AM | Report abuse

Why does anyone still think that Idol is a ticket to anything but obscurity?

Posted by: ronjaboy | January 20, 2011 6:55 AM | Report abuse

You need to talk to Carrie Underwood if you think that Idol is a ticket to obscurity. I'm sure she would disagree with you.

Posted by: mbrumble | January 20, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

That Steven Tyler guy looks like death warmed over - what's in his cup, embalming fluid?

Posted by: StratCat1 | January 20, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Jumped the shark.

Posted by: cjbass55 | January 20, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Televised junk food and a complete waste of time. How sad that Merikans actually see this kind of thing as judging a karaoke night at the local bar.

Posted by: bandcyuk | January 20, 2011 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Lopez is very nice looking....skank.

Posted by: DeanDR | January 20, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Surprise, surprise! Steven Tyler brings the funny that Ellen failed to do. Now, if he can only tone down the creepiness with the girls.

Posted by: jd121 | January 20, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Steven Tyler was the best part of the show. Jennifer can leave anytime now, she is as annoying as her movies. And Randy seemed lost.

Posted by: highwaybluesoccer | January 20, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

You mean it's just as unwatchable?

Posted by: LMF1 | January 20, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I think the addition of Steven Tyler was brilliant because I luv the rock voices. J Lo reminds me of another judge who COULDN'T SING but dance and Randy just luvs music so he's a great judge. Simon will be missed.

I feel sorry for all the ppl praising J Lo like she sings like Re Re or Whitney Houston (I know her new CD is forthcoming hahaha). Diddy GAVE her a career in exchange for her a@@@@. I laugh when I hear her talk like she thinks she can REALLY sing....hahahahaha

Anyway I enjoy the auditions then I stop watching. I can't wait to watch Simon's show and he's on Oprah's Master Class (Oh I luv O's Behind The Scenes)

Posted by: MDlady2 | January 20, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

This is going to be a fun season! I honestly did think I'd like Tyler or Lopez and surprise, surprise, I did. I don't remember the last time I laughed out loud watching the auditions - Tyler is funny, I sure hope he can keep it up!

Posted by: MILWI | January 20, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

The part I don't like about Idol reminds me of the SNL spoof of Extreme Home Makeover where they just go too far with the melodrama in the stories. Sadly most of those kids aren't going to make it and it was sad to see parents pin all their hopes on a singing competition. I wouldn't stop my daughter from pursuing her dreams but as a SIDE gig....not drop out of college and go chase Idol. It doesn't work for everyone....

With that being said my 2 faves last night was the 17yr old (was in a wheelchair and sang Beetles I think) and the 16yr who sounded like Shania Twain. Most country and rock artists CAN sing

Posted by: MDlady2 | January 20, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

A joke ,,even the disposable nerds are so phoney they dress them alike,,tyler with all his face work and drug use is more interesting falling off the stage if he does again,,jlo hasnt had it since she tried to go anorexic and lost half her butt

Posted by: schmidt1 | January 20, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

TO StratCat1, I have never laughed as much reading comments before. Thank you :)

Posted by: emailtrauma2 | January 20, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

The new "Idol" is more about the judges than the contestants, and the judges are lame. This is the beginning of the end for the show.

Posted by: mike85 | January 20, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I gave up after 6 minutes. Boring.

Posted by: MplsMom | January 20, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Can't watch it without TIVO. I still like watching the contestants sing once we are in the top 10. Probably won't keep up with the auditions.

Posted by: readerl | January 20, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Your dig against Tyler where you wrote: "Yeah ... well, 'American Idol' has a higher standard here," says Steven Tyler, who is wearing a polka dot shirt and what appears to be a feather dream-catcher earring.

That tells me implicitly, that you're not a fan of this show. You're only agenda here is to exude your cynicism and make snide remarks about the judges basically so you can look cool among your critic friends.

I for one really loved Tyler first of all. Loved what he was wearing, I mean c'mon, the guy is a rock star in the greatest American Rock band STILL performing for Pete's sake! YOU should be so talented! I also found him charming, mature, (he's 62 people), and very gracious even when he had to say no.
Yeah it's pretty obvious he is not filling Simon's shoes and that's fine. I admit I will miss Simon, but things change and he's moved on.
Tyler is also not like Abdul at all, which you suggested. IF anything JLo is pretty much following in Abdul's shoes. Paula always tried to find something positive to say even when she had to say no, so did Jennifer last night. Jennifer has a big heart too, JUST like Paula.

There were no fights amongst the judges which some might think was not as entertaining, I admit, that used to tickle me and also their reactions were so funny when some contestant was truly bad. How they would try and fight their laughter.

Yes those were the good old days. Yet it was kind of nice that these three from last night were mostly all on the same page. It was refreshing.
Also one thing I noticed there were not any contestants after they were rejected that cussed out the judges at all. Why is that? Maybe because all three of the judges were respectful to them even when saying no. They used finesse and did not insult them by saying the kind of rude stuff Simon would say. That was kind of nice too. That no one was overly angry and spewing out graphic language against any of the judges. Course it's still early though. We will see if they can maintain that.

My question is, if you or ANYONE doesn't like the show why watch? It's that simple. If you are tired of American Idol then why do a review cutting the judges or the elements of the show to pieces, just plain DON'T WATCH and write your review on a show you DO like.

Posted by: gtitus09 | January 20, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Of course, it's the same American Idol. What did you expect? That's why they didn't change the name. I came late to the idol bandwagon, only started watching every week a couple of years ago. I too was disappointed with last year's version, but I'm optimistic about this year. I believe that I will enjoy the show more without Simon's cruelty. Sometimes it's enough to tell a person they didn't get the job without adding, oh, and don't ever apply for another job ever again anywhere. I liked Steven Tyler's honesty and enthusiasm, J. Lo seems sweet, and Randy seems, well, like Randy. I'm hoping for a good season.

Posted by: barrye693 | January 20, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Steven telling that 16 year old that her dress wasn't short enough or whatever was the pinnacle of creepiness.

Posted by: ozpunk | January 20, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

They need to focus more on the contestants' performances, less on the judges and cute contestant backstories. This is supposed to be a singing competition, right? Let it BE one.

I hop X Factor is better than this....

Posted by: roblimo | January 20, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Pleasantly surprised at Steven Tyler. J-Lo's not a twit (yet) like Paula. Randy's acting a little more grown up. So far, so good.

And it was nice to see more of those who made it through than those who didn't.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | January 20, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Lisa, but you got this one wrong, there is definitely something missing from the show. This show is not dead, but it's surely on life support. The only thing that makes it watchable are the performances by the talented, not so talented and weird alike.

Posted by: jastanto97 | January 20, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Overall, I loved it. After all the drama of the past couple of years, it was nice that the sniping was gone and there was more focus on the contestants.

Some might be bored by the same format, but if so, then STOP WATCHING and SHUT UP. Sheesh.

Didn't think I would like J-Lo, but I did. She may be a diva backstage, but on stage I thought she did very well.

Steven Tyler is 62, but no way he's ever going to act his age. As for the sexual innuendo, well, when the girls dress like skanks, then they're gonna get skanky comments from guys.

Randy was his usual third-wheel actor, but at least he dropped all the "yo, dawg" crap.

A great start, looking forward to more.

Posted by: lanehatcher | January 20, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Too much banter, too many sob stories, not enough, um, singing. We turned it off after the first hour.

Posted by: shadowlane7 | January 21, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

All you folks who stopped watching/didn't watch and/or are predicting the demise: Seriously, why are you wasting your time with this column and comments? Do you troll around the web finding other shows that you don't watch and telling everyone that you don't watch them? Just seems kind of a waste of time to me, but I suppose to each his/her own...

I agree with Emily that I am pleasantly surprised by Steven Tyler. This is the man who, when asked how being a grandfather would change him, responded, "Guess I'll have to give up the black toenail polish, Lord have mercy!" So what do you expect? He's funny and yet quite kind to the contestants-- pretty fun to watch.

I think the best moment was when the young male contestant began to hit on JLo in a very creepy, stalkerish way, and began to take his shirt off. I thought it was HILARIOUS that both RJ and ST joined him in baring their abs, and even more hilarious that the 62 year old won the contest! I don't know if the guys were deliberately doing so, but it turned a potentially very creepy moment into a very funny one!

Posted by: inkydog | January 21, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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