Tuesday (January 12) night's "American Idol" season nine kick-off had everything we've come to expect from the series' early audition episodes: Sob stories, delusional wannabes and Alicia Keys covers. Everything, of course, except Paula Abdul.
Producers shrewdly addressed the Paula Issue with the very first audition of the season: A walking Boston stereotype named Janet McNamara whose sole purpose — aside from saying "wicked" and conveniently promoting the "American Idol" video game — was confusing "new" judge Kara DioGuardi with Paula. "See?" the TV show said to its devoted fanbase. "This random girl who can't sing didn't notice Paula was gone. Neither should you."
Well, okay then!
Guest judge PoshBot-2000 (also known as Victoria Beckham) was on hand to play the role of Pop Culture Relic Who Wears Funny Clothes, and she did a fine job of sitting in a chair and blinking. Based on that criteria alone, she's already proven to be a more efficient judge than Paula circa season six. Four points to you, PoshBot-2000!
Overall, as an "Idol" junkie who generally dislikes the heavily-produced audition shows, the "Idol" premiere was a pleasant experience. We met a few contestants who will be fun to root for (I'm looking at you Leah Laurenti, the girl who grew up fifteen minutes away from my childhood home yet somehow lived in "Footloose" because she wasn't allowed to listen to secular music). We saw a lot more of the behind-the-scenes setup in the audition room, and we discovered that Posh Spice had a hard time remembering the lyrics, "I really really really wanna zigazigah." (Seriously. She legit consoled a nervous singer who spaced on the words by saying, "That happened to me all the time." Amazing.)
But since the show is supposed to be all about the contestants, let's take a look at some of the stand-outs — both good and bad — from the Boston auditions.
Maddy Curtis was a well-spoken 16-year-old with eleven siblings, three of whom have Down Syndrome. (The Curtis Family will have a TLC reality show by the time my recap is published.) While Maddy's performance jitters during Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" were endearing, she should get that in check before the live shows begin. Simon liked her quiet confidence and her rich, deep voice, but I give it two more performances before he starts complaining that she's not happy-go-lucky enough.
Because this was a two hour extra-long premiere, we were treated to not one but two husky-voiced 16-year-olds with a heavy home life. Connecticut native Katie Stevens opened up about her Portuguese grandmother struggling with Alzheimer's. After impressing the judges with a Fiona Apple-esque "At Last," Katie got the chance to call her ailing grandma with good news. Lucky for the producers, Grandma Stevens was in a particularly lucid frame of mind that day. It would have been really awkward if Katie had called and grandma responded with a pizza order.
"Idol" also gave us Justin Williams, a Cheyenne Jackson lookalike in a half-argyle polo shirt. But it wasn't his fashion sense (or his confusing "alternative pop soul" aspirations) that had me weeping — it was his "I survived cancer" story. Even more of a bummer? Despite the judges treating Justin like a newbie, he made it to Hollywood week last season. In fact, he was in "White Chocolate," the group number alongside Matt Giraud and Kris Allen. Whoops! Apparently, "Idol" assumed viewers had the memory of Grandma Stevens. (Too soon?)
That scenario was far less harrowing for Amadeo DiRocco. The only obstacle Amadeo ever faced was being painted as an Italian stereotype by "American Idol" producers. Perhaps I'm biased, but the way "Idol" portrayed DiRocco and his homemade-wine-and-sausage-and-cheese-consuming family was far more problematic than anything broadcast on MTV's "Jersey Shore."
Amadeo seemed like a nice enough guy, but the dude's "Hoochie Coochie Man" was so offensively loud that even Danny Gokey would ask for ear plugs. Shockingly, the judges dug him, with Simon saying, "I like the idea that a show like this can give people like you a break." What do you mean "people like you," Simon? Italians? I'm gonna bust your kneecaps for that (as soon as I finish makin' da pizza pie).
In other "People I Would Rather Hang With Than Hear Sing Again" news, 18-year-old chin-strap-facial-hair-afficinado Mike Davis worked on a stunt/tour boat called Codzilla. (The crew of Codzilla will have a Discovery Channel show by the time my recap publishes.) His otherwise uninspiring audition was noteworthy because he not only asked DioGuardi out on a steak dinner but also inspired Simon Cowell to sigh, "I'm gonna take a break. I say yes," while strolling off the set. Given the news that has transpired in the past two days, watching Simon dismiss "Idol" on the air was a sad reminder that the dude checked out years ago.
For a big chunk of the viewing audience, the "Idol" audition shows are good for one thing and one thing only: Freak shows! So far, the ninth season has delivered plenty. Hyperactive teen Pat Ford spasmed his way through an odd "Womanizer," no doubt made all the more strange thanks to his young Michael C. Hall looks and Edie Beale accent. (If only "Grey Gardens" had a similar "Holla!" montage!) Cocky Lisa Olivero (who sniffed, "I think I'm better than most people on this show," before butchering Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love") sounded like a mangled audiotape recording. Playing at the wrong speed. Underwater.
Perhaps the most buzzed-about reject was Andrew Fenlon. Part evil Clark Kent, part Rain Man when "The People's Court" is on, Fenlon walked into the "Idol" room pissed that he had to wait all day for his moment in the sun. In a flare-up called "Showdown in Beantown" by producers, Kara DioGuardi stepped up her game with an angry tongue-lashing. "You just told me that you're a little bit annoyed that you had to wait three hours to come in here and get your shot when there are people who would wait years to do so. So I am now angry. At you. Who I don't like. At all." Go Kara! Too bad she ruined it by flirtatiously threatening him with spanks moments later. (Ugh!) It's even more of a shame that his attitude got him booted because his "House of the Rising Sun" wasn't half-bad.
For those of us who enjoy following the actual competition, I'm not sure that we've met any breakout stars just yet. The only contestant I can picture in the Top 24 is Tyler Grady, the dude who broke his wrists after falling out of a tree. Tyler looks like if the lead singer of the Hives joined Wolfmother and sounds like Cory Monteith-meets-Jeffrey-Osborne. His soulful-but-slightly-skeevy "Let's Get It On" was quirky enough to work.
Perhaps the blink-and-you-missed-her Jess Wolfe has a shot, too. Take off the Blanche Devereaux garb, give the feathered hair a touch-up and trash the tinted glasses and Wolfe could have a "She's All That" makeover moment on the "Idol" stage.
Unfortunately, "Idol" would rather spend time letting also-ran Mere Doyle model her kimonos rather than show us more of the 32 Boston hopefuls who will advance to Hollywood week.
Do you think any of tonight's auditioning contestants will make it to the finale? Is Boso Mora just "Chikezie 2: Electric Blandaloo" (despite his mother being my new Idol mom obsession)? Did you miss Paula last night? How did Poshbot-2000 do? And why was Kris Allen the only "Idol" featured on the backdrop this year? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on Tuesday night's "Idol" premiere!