"American Idol" returned with Ryan Seacrest standing before the Grand Canyon. In previous seasons, that's been the size of the gap between "Idol" and everyone else in the ratings wars. But with the show starting to show a little wear and tear and the detractors getting friskier, the start of season eight revealed some new wrinkles to freshen things up.
Introducing Kara DioGuardi: Here's what the viewers learned about the newest "Idol" judge: her name is pronounced "Care-A," although Simon doesn't care-a 'nuff to get it right. That was about it. But there's four months left to go, and the show has plenty of time to build the pretend conflict between her and other judges.
He kissed a girl and he liked it: Katrina Darrell uttered a phrase never before heard in the seven prior seasons of the show: "Where's Ryan so I can make out with him?" Darrell auditioned in a bikini and promised to make out with the host if the judges gave her a ticket to Hollywood. He seemed lukewarm, saying "I think it's against the rules," but she would not be denied. Sure enough, she got her golden ticket, raced out to find Ryan, and locked lips with the suddenly flappable host.
Gender wars: This just in: Attractive women in bikinis tend to draw male attention. That worked for Darrell, who got passed to Hollywood because of Simon and Randy's yes votes to the utter disgust of Kara. The new judge demonstrated Darrell's inadequacy at singing Mariah Carey's "Treated Me Kind," only to have her snipe, "your demonstration wasn't any better." Kara dismissively gave Bikini Girl some advice for Hollywood. "Next time come naked."
You're the Inspiration: "Idol" promised to focus more on the inspirational stories this season, so it's no accident that Scott MacIntyre stole the show. The 23-year-old is almost completely blind, saying that his vision is as if one were seeing through a drinking straw, but impressed the judges with his version of Billy Joel's "And So it Goes" and made it to Hollywood.
Say it ain't so, Kara: To make Kara feel at home, the show provided her with her very own unusually devoted fan. Sixteen-year-old Lia Marie Golde brought a songbook of the 100-plus songs that she had written so that her own American Idol could check it out. Sadly, that love wasn't returned with the same degree of intensity: Golde didn't make the cut.
Uh, girls? I have news:
Uh, girls? I have news:Emily Hughes is the rare "Idol" contestant who may be destroying dreams as she chases her own. She's the 21-year-old from Los Angeles who auditioned despite the fact that her band has a European tour scheduled that would have to be canceled if she advances. Casting friendships and camaraderie aside, she made it to the next round as her bandmates wrote their Craigslist ad for a new singer.
Teen steals the scene: Arianna Afsar is the kind of sweet, wholesome 16-year-old that the show loves to promote until they crack under the pressure. Still, how could the judges not love a girl who founded an organization to arrange for teens to perform in nursing homes?
From the oil rig to the spotlight: "Idol" loves finding singers in unpredictable places, and 27-year-old Michael Sarver fit the bill. Sarver works as a roughneck on an oil rig, which he billed as the fifth most dangerous job in the country. "You are the complete opposite of Ryan Seacrest, aren't you?" Simon said. He'll move on to the even rougher job of surviving the Hollywood round.
Strike one: Despite all promises to focus less on the bad auditioners, the first contestant to get airtime this season was Tuan Nguyen. Despite his hope to be "as big as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears," the judges liked his 'Fro much better than his voice. The first singer on the air became the first one sent home.
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Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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