Jan. 18, 2012 at 11:13 PM ET
“American Idol” is back, and it’s the exact same show that you remember. Which was pretty much the entire point of the season 11 premiere.
As the extended introduction pointed out, the show has been around long enough that the current contestants have been watching it since they were in elementary school. Teenagers with musical abilities grew up dreaming of becoming the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. Whether that makes you happy about the show’s staying power or depressed at the state of the music industry, "Idol's" place in popular culture over the past decade is part of what makes it a hit every year.
The two-hour episode centered around the Savannah, Ga., auditions, and the first hopeful came with some strong credentials. David Leathers Jr. said he beat last year’s champion, Scotty McCreery, in a talent show a few years ago (something McCreery seemed to corroborate with a “I knew I knew that kid from somewhere! Hahah” tweet). The 17-year-old became the first of the 42 auditioners to advance.
If you’ve ever seen the show before, you could have easily predicted who the other stars of the night would be. The traditional archetypes included:
The Siblings: Poor Schyler Dixon. She was hoping to have center stage this season, but when judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson heard her brother Colton was there as well, they forced him to sing and sent him to Hollywood for the second year in a row. Schyler had the look of someone who was happy to be invited to the party, but suspicious that she got the ticket only because it meant her popular older brother would come as well.
The Contestant With Subpar Living Conditions: Amy Brumfield lives in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend because they can’t afford a $100 a week hotel room. And yet, she seems to be a mature and well-grounded woman without either bitterness or desperation -- just a solid singing voice. “We cook our soup over the fire pit. And we enjoy it,” she said. Later, she added, “I would rather be outdoors and happy than indoors and miserable.” Way to blow a chance at the sympathy votes by making it sound like fun!
The Guy Who Quit His Job to Try Out: W.T. Thompson from Appomattox, Va., couldn’t convince his employer to give him the time off and decided to chase the dream instead of a paycheck. Oh, and his wife’s pregnant. She supported him by saying that this was his one shot: “Once we have children, you can’t just quit a job,” his wife said. All I can say is that if I told my pregnant wife that I was quitting to audition, she would not have reacted as kindly.
The Offspring of Someone Famous: Shannon Magrane's father Joe, was a Major League Baseball player who won a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987 and currently works as a studio analyst for the MLB Network. Magrane hopes being an athlete’s daughter works as well for her as it did for season six winner Jordin Sparks, whose father, Phillipi, played in the NFL.
The Pretty Women: As long as two of the three judges are men, there was no way NBA dancer Brittany Kerr wasn’t going to at least make it out of Savannah. The same goes for Lauren Mink. That’s the price of having Steven Tyler as a judge.
The Girl Nobody Will Want to Be in a Group With: Ashlee Altise is high energy, confident and dances to the beat of her own drummer (literally). That makes her one to watch, whether it’s because she succeeds or because she drives others crazy.
The Auditioner With Determination but No Talent: Jessica Whitley got three "no" votes in Savannah, but promised to come back later for the Texas auditions. We can only hope ...
The Comic Relief: Shaun Kraisman could play host Ryan Seacrest in a college production of “America Idol: The Musical,” but had no shot at advancing to Hollywood as a singer. Then there was Erica Nowak, who called Steven her future ex-husband and could have been penalized for inappropriate use of the hands when she got to hug him. “By the way, he has an amazing behind,” she said on her way out the door.
The Big Finish: Pawnshop worker Phillip Phillips did a very nice cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on his guitar. Did he deserve all the raves the judges offered? Probably not. But it was memorable, and it’s a sign he’ll stick around for awhile.
Yup. It’s the same old “American Idol.” And considering it’s a recipe that has worked well for the past decade, it’s probably just what the fans were looking for.
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