What a difference 8 months makes. Last we saw American Idol, it had just completed its 9th season and was limping toward its 10th. The show was looking toward 2011 without its biggest star, Simon Cowell, who reportedly turned down an offer of over $130 million to stay. After failed experiments with a famous star of dubious credentials (Ellen DeGeneres), and a no-name with bona fides (Kara DioGuardi) as judges, AI faced the daunting challenge of finding judges with credentials and star power. Well, at first blush, I think they succeeded.
On the surface, pairing an aging rock star with a movie star whose music career seems to be mostly behind her (no pun intended), seems odd. But if the premiere of year 10 is any indication, American Idol’s future and its reputation are in good hands, for this season at least. Steven Tyler brings the energy and indisputable credibility of experience that only 40 years of being a rock star can give. Jennifer Lopez brings knowledge and a certain sweetness and compassion to the show that I think was missing last year. Both of them have been stars for so long, that they don’t have to prove anything to anyone and they’re obviously comfortable in their own skins. This should prevent the show from slipping into the adolescent bickering that I think has hurt the show in recent seasons. (Unless Ryan Seacrest goes insane like he did a few times with Simon.) Yes, you need conflict for a show to stay interesting, but conflict can come from many different situations besides petty squabbling. I mean, the very format of the show creates conflict: every week contestants fight for their artistic lives out on that stage while the world watches.
The other thing that struck me while watching last night is that contestants will be hard pressed to tell a judge that they don’t know what they’re talking about. You know the ones, “You’re wrong, I know I’m a star—you just can’t see it. People have been telling me all my life that I’m a star.” Really? This is Steven Tyler you’re talking to; lead singer of Aerosmith, arguably America’s greatest rock band of all time. And Jennifer Lopez who’s sold over 50 million albums in her career; a reigning movie star who has spent most of her adult life in the limelight. Now that’s credibility. Throw in Randy Jackson, who heretofore has been the most legitimate musician of AI’s original judges, and you’ve got quite a formidable panel. The addition of legendary record mogul and talent expert, Jimmy Iovine, as in-house mentor completes the talent evaluators for the show and brings back some much needed credibility.
The first stop for auditions for 2011 was in New Jersey just across the Hudson River from New York City. The Big Apple did not disappoint. 51 contestants were given the Golden Ticket to Hollywood. Idol’s concerted effort to make the show younger was evident. A number of teenagers were selected to move on. Most notable:
Kinsey Palmer—15 year-old Performing Arts School student did a powerful take on a Carrie Underwood song.
Robbie Rosen—16 year-old did Backstreet Boys take on the Beatles’ “Yesterday”.
Victoria Huggins—apt last name. 16 year-old was the most huggable contestant of the night with her South Carolina twang. Belted “Midnight Train to Georgia” and won an early plane ride to California.
My favorite who might even have a shot to win the whole thing:
Kinsey Palmer—has the whole package: looks, personality, talent. Just needs a little more stage presence which will get worked on before the Hollywood phase.
Next stop—New Orleans!
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