Hello.

Hi!

It’s me.

Idol!

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet? 

We do this every January!

To go over, everything. 

Like the ratings?

They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but I ain’t done much healing. 

You haven’t put any singers atop the charts lately, either.

(On a side note, am I the only one who thinks Adele comes off like a total dick in that song? I mean, he knows it’s you. You’ve called ONE THOUSAND times. I wouldn’t answer either and certainly not to rehash you breaking my heart years ago. I’ve moved on and you should too. And you’re 27. You were born in 1988. What’s no secret is that there’s plenty of time.)

But what doesn’t have much time left is the former ratings juggernaut that is American Idol. All good things must eventually come to an end (even The Simpsons … someday), and as such, the 15th and final star search is officially underway.

And after “The Farewell Season” crowns one final champion, Ryan Seacrest et al. will ride off into the sunset before Adele even surpasses the age limit. 

Back with the Old, Out with the New

The regular crowd is back, with Seacrest at the helm along with returning judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr., but what is unclear is the format, which I can only assume will turn traditional after the mess that was Season 14. 

Watch 10 Hilariously Iconic American Idol Auditions >>>

In the end, Nick Fradiani beat out Clark Beckham and Jax to earn decent air time with his coronation song, “Beautiful Life” (also the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup anthem), a blessing considering the alternative was that awful “Champion” they forced Clark to sing. 

Festivus may be over, but I will re-air my grievances from last year:

  • The debacle of a structure, which once crammed 12 performances into a one-hour show only to follow it up with eight performances in a two-hour show
  • The Twitter Insta-Save fiasco that rendered America’s vote moot
  • The premature saving of Qaasim Middleton
  • The elongated stay of premature Daniel Seavey
  • The sing-whatever-you-want trend
  • Whackgate
  • “If I can’t win with this song, I don’t wanna win American Idol
  • The Incredible Hulkification of Harry Connick, Jr. Harry … angry!
  • Jax’s devastating elimination
  • Insert qualm here…

So yeah, there’s work to be done. But the best way to draw attention to a slowly sinking ship is to smash a hole in it, and so the hype is significant for a series that once seemed like it would go on forever. 

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Nick Fradiani doesn’t rank in the upper tier of Idol winners, but compared to predecessors Caleb Johnson and Candice Glover, “Beautiful Life” peaking at 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 is a smashing success.

The pressure is on to go out with a bang, and a fizzled-out finale could damage the legacy of the franchise that has produced the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry and J-Hud, and reinforce that it was indeed time to send it to the farm upstate. 

Let the Auditions Begin

There is room for everyone on the Idol train as it approaches the station (even you, Lee DeWyze) and the promised return of the original judges means Season 14 will be the only one to go down without an appearance from the Dawg. 

But even with a dwindling talent pool, possibly due to the prevalence of so many outlets that can create a star (thanks for the Biebs, YouTube), American Idol remains the only reality show with a proven track record of creating mainstream careers in the industry.

It’s all about the singers and their quests to live out the impossible dream right in front of our eyes and maybe make them famous. (Thank God that mentor Scott Borchetta is back to creep out your children.) So spruce up that resume, Kieran, because it’s time to dim the lights on a cultural phenomenon. 

(And full disclosure: At the age of 35, I downloaded my first Justin Bieber song. Times they are a changin’!)

The Good

The last first performers in American Idol history (until the inevitable nostalgia recycle five to 10 years from now) are a montage of unnamed golden ticket recipients, most of whom we don’t even hear sing. Well that’s an odd way to start. 

Watch: The Top 24 of Season 15 Sing “Best Day of My Life” >>>

The first named singer to hit the stage in Atlanta is 15-year-old superfan Michelle Marie Lecza, who can name all 14 previous winners in order and cried when the blind guy got voted off in Season 8. You wouldn’t think she’d be a good singer by the looks of her, but a rendition of LeAnn Rimes “Blue” is good, if not a bit erratic. The judges all love her though and she’s accomplished her lifelong goal by earning a spot in the lineup for Hollywood. There’s also a nice, new feature this season in which family and friends can watch the auditions on TV monitors. 

Seventeen-year-old Josiah Siska is a big Johnny Cash fan, and his voice is so deep that you could bury a corpse on top of him. His voice isn’t bad, but it sounds so unnatural that I can’t imagine any original songs by him having contemporary appeal, even in the country genre. Harry admires his dedication to what he does (singing in such a low register), but he’s a novelty we’ll be seeing again.

Lindita is a 26-year-old personal trainer from Kosovo who lost 150 pounds in preparation for her audition. Thankfully, she didn’t shed her voice in the process. There is potential, but the scream singing and vibrato are out of control. The judges point out that she didn’t stick to the melody at all, but she’s SoCal bound. 

Fifteen-year-old Lee Jean brings the emotion with Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” and it’s all a tribute to his late older brother DJ who died in an accident. He’s raw, but the talent is there with a backstory to boot. He might be the first legit singer to watch, but he’s got work to do to resolve massive pitch issues. If he goes far, he could start a BGWG trend.

It’s off to Denver, where 15-year-old Jeneve Rose Mitchell lives off the grid, six miles from the nearest town, on Saddle Mountain. They have no electricity and only fire up the generator once a week to watch Idol. She and her cello rock out to “Chainsaw,” and even though she isn’t a particularly amazing singer, the judges are wowed by her originality and put her through.

Sonika Void, 20, traveled all the way from Martha’s Vineyard to chase her dreams, and her rendition of Carrie Underwood‘s “Look at Me” is understated and goosebump-inducing. The nerves are evident, but she’s got the look to be a real contender. 

Reanna Molinaro is a 24-year-old police officer in New Mexico, and she handcuffs Harry before belting out some Patsy Cline. It’s solid but unspectacular, and we’ll see if she can evolve into a true performer. 

Cue the returning singer montage, led by six-time auditioner Shevonne Philidor (a.k.a. DJ Shevizzle). She, Kory Wheeler and Laurel Wright are all good enough this time around, but none of them blows the roof off the joint. The judges then sing the Laverne & Shirley theme song, without realizing the majority of their viewers were born after the series ended in 1983. 

Joshua Wicker is the worship and creative director at his local church and also an expecting papa. His goals are to not mess up and that his wife doesn’t go into labor when she meets Harry. He’s super likable, has a unique voice, and he does his own acoustic guitar take on Rihanna‘s “Stay.” He has a few Kermit the Frog moments, and his voice honestly comes down to personal preference. I’m not a fan, but the jury is out and my mind is open. Branch Eisley Wicker is born three weeks later.

That starts a montage of singers who brought their babies along for luck, highlighted by parents Jordan and Alex Sasser, worship leaders whose lives revolve around their adorable daughter. Alex auditions with Bruno Mars on the ukulele. The judges find the family distracting and the performance too lighthearted. Alex belts out Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and while he has the more powerful pipes, it’s pitchy and full of overdone runs. But the judges disagree, and it’s one worship leader through and one sent home. I mean, someone has to take care of the baby. The verdicts really weren’t fair though, and Alex sobs that she’s never good enough and always has to watch Jordan follow his dreams. #IdolDivorce. 

Kerry Courtney is a home-schooled, 24-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, who lost his mom to cancer and now performs to make her proud. The backstory alone, with all the pictures they show, gives you goose bumps. He’s a character who makes crazy facial expressions and body movements during a somewhat frightening version of Death Cab for Cutie’s “Black Sun.” It’s not my cup of tea, but the judges love his quirky darkness and call the performance a scary piece of art. Okay. Three yeses.

Following a montage of female auditioners trying to use Six Degrees of Keith Urban connections to schmooze their way to a golden ticket, it’s Alabama country girl Shelbie “Z” James’ turn. She’s a small-town hairdresser, and her Carrie Underwood “Crazy” is straight up on point. She loses a couple points for scream-singing, but the judges love her from top to bottom, inside out. Another contender, even though I am not a country buff.   

The Bad

The judges position themselves around the room to mess with 25-year-old Billy Bob Evett, a self-proclaimed Honky Tonk who works hard and parties harder. He looks exactly as you imagine anyone named Billy Bob would, and he is a fan of J-Lo during her Fly Girl days. He sings Waylon Jennings, but his personality and physical stature are much bigger than his voice. They like him, though, and it’s the closest Harry ever came to voting yes for someone who can’t sing all that well. It’s raw emotion as he heads home, but at least he didn’t make a fool of himself. 

Joseph Kohlruss is 16 and so full of confidence that he brought an entire fan club of people wearing his face on T-shirts. He claims to be classically trained, but apparently not in singing. He expected four yeses and instead gets three nos, though J-Lo says he has a strong, but inconsistent voice. Harry asks him to sing a scale from high to low, the bottom of which sounds like a frog’s slow and merciless death. (Are the “fans” just messing with him?)

After a montage of some of Idol‘s more moving backstories, 16-year-old Sylvia Lee Walker busts on the scene and breaks the mold. She’s a heavily-accented college student who speaks her entire stream of consciousness (from her sister breaking her collar bone to skipping two years of high school to her pigs and show goat named Jim) and then scream-yodels for a minute or so before being sent on her chatty way.

The Cross-Promotionally Stupid

Now, I ain’t saying he’s a gold digger, but Seacrest ain’t messing with no broke, well, you know. Ryan Seacrest knows where his bread is buttered, and some cross-promotion isn’t going to hurt his post-Idol career. And so, the man who came up with the premise for and serves as executive producer for Keeping Up with the Kardashians is treats us to a pretend audition from the one and (thankfully) only Kanye West. 

The rap megastar performs an a capella rendition of his hit original song “Gold Digger,” while the judges muse over his prospects and the crew laughs in the background. And it all goes down while Ryan, and a very-pregnant Kim, yuck it up outside the audition room. 

In the end, he gets a golden ticket, but I doubt we’ll be seeing him during Hollywood Week. Unfortunately, though, you can see him pretty much everywhere else. 

So what do you think? Any winners in this bunch? I’m keeping an eye on Sonika Void, Shelbie Z and Lee Jean, but I don’t see any other standouts.

American Idol airs Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8pm on FOX. 

(Image and video courtesy of FOX)