The original mac daddy of reality singing competitions is back! American Idol
began its 13th season with a fresh, fun new tone and a fantastic crop
of judges. Randy Jackson is finally gone, those dueling divas Nicki
Minaj and Mariah Carey have been eliminated and we're left with three
incredibly likeable celebrities.
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There's country star Keith Urban, aka the only tolerable judge from last year. There's the return of Jennifer Lopez and her "goosies." And then there's the arrival of Harry Connick, Jr., a man millions of Idol fans dreamed of having as a permanent judge after his amazing guest mentoring sessions.
The premiere of American Idol
season 13 takes us to Boston and Austin and introduces a new feature, "The Chamber," a tiny room the contestants wait in before heading in to face the judges. Ryan Seacrest tries really hard to make us care about 'The Chamber," but it's not as good as "Other Door."
The real headline is Harry, whose wit and charm keep the show buoyant and fun to watch. Sure, he's kind of an embarrassing dad with corny jokes, but he hates runs and, at the end of the episode, he picks up a contestant and cradles him like a baby. How can you not love him?
Anyway, there are two hours and a whole lot of contestants to get to, so on with the recap!
For no reason whatsoever, the dramatic opening features a random female contestant from Detroit who the judges seem to think is major competition. She has a nice, smoky, pop star voice, and she certainly has the look, but she didn't exactly send shivers down my spine and it feels weird starting the season by giving such prominence to one singer.The Good from BostonTroy Durden
: The first contestant of season 13 brags about how great he is and how much people love him. Then he twerks and immediately becomes dead to me, though I give the judges a pass for being amused because these auditions were filmed back when twerking was still a thing.
His voice isn't as bad as I expected it to be, but it's not good and he has no real control. In spite of this, the judges all say "Yes." WTF? Even after they hand him the ticket, they say he needs a lot of work (or "twerk") and call him a longshot.Sam Woolf
: This cherubic-faced 17-year-old is raised by his kooky grandpa. He seems like a nice boy, the human equivalent of Fievel. He has a nice voice and sings a sped-up version of "Lego House." I instantly think he's bound for the Top 30, though he probably won't make the Top 13. Harry thinks his daughters are going to love him. I imagine his daughter's faces just turned beat red from embarrassment.Ethan Thompson, Lindsey Pedicone, Jillian Jensen
: The first good montage of the season, Ethan is a Phillip Phillips doppelganger with piercing blue eyes, Lindsey is a quirky girl with a cat shirt and Jillian looks like a typical coffee shop singer with a guitar. They all have incredibly good voices. Jillian wins the round after asking to hug Harry because she loved Will and Grace.Stephanie Hanvey
: She's a Jersey girl, a teenage Snooki who loves J. Lo. She has one of those pretty voices for a young girl, but it's not developed or matured. The judges show mercy and all say "Yes," but it's a very timid, weak "Yes." We'll probably never see her again except for when she gets cut in the first round of Hollywood Week.Morgan Deplitch
: She's your standard 15-year-old girl trying way too hard to be a Christina Aguilera-style diva. Her lack of breath control is proof that they should not have lowered the age limit. Harry, in full-on dad mode, wants her to sing more kid-appropriate songs because 15-year-old girls singing about shaving smooth makes him uncomfortable.
: This soon-to-be 18-year-old has a pushy stage mom and looks like he should be in a boy band. He's very charming and fun, but his voice isn't all that amazing, despite what the judges say. Keith thinks he sounds like Justin Bieber at 5am, raspy and cool.Kaitlyn Jackson
: She's 15, but when she was 11 her grandpa had a heart attack during one of her performances. She wrote a song about it, a very literally song, and performs it. The story is touching, but there needs to be a ban on original songs because they're usually not that good. "A stranger that saved him from danger"? I'm sorry, but that's terrible writing. The judges disagree and give her a ticket. They're also under the mistaken assumption that she'll be moving to the live shows.Keith London
: He's a 21-year-old handyman and everyman, a WGWG (White Guy With Guitar) who does his own take on Katy Perry's "Roar." Jennifer makes it clear she doesn't like that song without actually saying it. He fits squarely into the David Cook/Lee Dewyze/Phillip Phillips category. Harry says "No," but he gets overruled by the others.Shannon Wilson
: This Texan looks like he ate Ruben Studdard. Before the performance, Ryan plays a little football with this behemoth of a man and totally wipes out while trying to jump over chairs. Shannon has a sweet and tender voice with a ridiculously high falsetto that is the polar opposite of his gargantuan girth. Stephanie Petronelli
: She's a New England Patriots cheerleader. Her voice is hoarse and it hurts the actual vocals. Harry doesn't like it, but Jennifer does. Keith is on the fence but sides with J. Lo. That's a bad decision. By my count that's three people who shouldn't have moved on, including Jersey Stephanie and Twerking Troy.The Bad from BostonTaylor Hildack
: She's a freakin' jazz student who sings Carrie Underwood. She's fine, but not great. I think this was just a horrible song choice and isn't her style at all. Jennifer likes her and says "Yes," but Harry and Keith think her voice just isn't strong enough and say "No." Taylor is our first rejection of the season and it's not unanimous. It's good that the judges are willing to disagree.
She's followed by a montage of rejected singers who all got extremely polite and respectful criticism from the judges. That's nice, but part of me already misses the cruelty of a Simon Cowell. None of these judges are going to shatter a person's dreams on national TV, and that's part of the joy of this show.James Earl
: His mom picked out his outfit from T.J. Maxx. He's the kind of guy who looks and sounds like one of those crazy homeless people on the streets. The judges are amused by him, but he sings like a guy with multiple personality disorder.Jacquelina Verna
: She's a pretty but plain girl who sings lots of runs with octaves going all over the place. Harry makes it clear he doesn't like all that rigmarole. It's a "No," followed by a music lesson from Professor Connick, Jr. about the pentatonic scale and the five notes that singers rely on when doing runs.Sam Atherton
: He thinks he's going to win. The minute we see him, we know he's not. He thinks he's cooler, smoother with the ladies and funnier than he actually is. But it's worth it for this exchange, after Sam announces he has three songs prepared, including one he wrote himself.
Keith: "Do the worst one first."
Sam: "So you want to do the original one first?"
He's awful and after he leaves he laughs maniacally. There may or may not be a dartboard in his basement with a photo of the three judges. He claims he's a better musician than J. Lo, Keith Urban and "Tony Connick, Jr." combined. Dude, don't you dare talk smack about Harry. He's been in more than just Independence Day, and he's an American treasure.The Good from AustinIsabell Gallegos and More
: There's a montage of people getting tickets to Hollywood, but Isabell is the only one mentioned by name.Savion Wright
: He has ADHD, but music has helped him deal with it. I think his mom is being a tad overdramatic by saying that music saved his life. Is ADHD really a fatal condition? He sings an original, which I hate, but it's cool and he's cool. This guy could be a threat and I could see him making it to the live shows.Terrica Curry, Justin Fira, Shelby Comey
: Terrica is a black diva who will probably sing a song from Dreamgirls
at some point, a familiar archetype on this show. Justin is a generic dude who plays the guitar and Shelby is a country farm girl.Madelyn Patterson
: She's one of those girls I instantly dislike because she crams way too many runs into her audition. Keith and Jennifer love her, but Harry becomes my favorite judge ever by saying that "some people" are too easily impressed by all of those runs. Huzzah, Harry is like a fat kid in gym class, cuz he hates the run.Jordan Grizzard
: He's a new dad and a white guy who sings with soul. He's really good, but I can't help but think of him as Danny Gokey 2.0. He brings his baby in and Jennifer wants to eat her adorable baby legs.Viviana Villalon, Savannah Young, Ben Boone
: They all play "unique" acoustic covers on their guitars, or in the case of Viviana, a Maroon 5 cover on a ukulele. My favorite is Viviana because her name is an anagram for "Voila Vanilla Van" (and one "L" away from "Villanova Villain").Malcolm Allen
: He has guitar envy, so he plays his air guitar before busting out "Superstitious." The air guitar part is dumb, but the singing is good. He loves music so much that he'd marry it if he could.Munfarid Zandi
: He's a Texan (originally from Pakistan) and he's apparently the only person auditioning who actually knows who Harry Connick, Jr. is, which is a travesty. Harry is enthralled and promises to hold him like a baby if he's good. He IS good, except the clapping and snapping is a bit distracting.
A man of his word, Harry then picks up the 19-year-old like a baby and they sing together a bit, which is the awesomest, cutest, craziest thing that has ever happened in 13 seasons of American Idol
. It's so much fun to see judges who actually get along (as opposed to all that Nicki vs. Mariah nonsense last year). Later, when news comes that Keith's album went #1, Harry cradled him like a baby too.The Bad from AustinDurann Cree
: She's good and personable. Harry calls her a big fish in a little pond. But I find her nondescript, and so do the judges because it's a "No," which is quite surprising since they said "Yes" to Troy and the Stephanies in Boston, all of whom were vastly inferior to Durann. It also deprives us of hearing Durran sing a Duran Duran song.Michael Gonzalez, Lyden McCown, Nikki Pool
: This is a quick montage of singers who aren't very good, but aren't so extraordinarily bad that they get their own segments. Roland Guerrero
: He's overcome by emotion after meeting Jennifer Lopez. Then he sings one of her songs. If he really loves her, he wouldn't make her song suffer like that.
In the end, 24 singers from Boston and 21 from Austin got tickets to Hollywood, and we actually saw and/or heard more than half of them, which is impressive. Tomorrow on the second night of the American Idol
season 13 premiere it's the second day in Austin and the San Francisco auditions.
(Image courtesy of FOX)