Pop Culture

'American Idol' shows its mean side in season 12 premiere

FOX / Today
Despite having a nice voice and an inspiring story, Evan Ruggiero did not get a ticket to Hollywood.

“American Idol” made its season 12 debut on Wednesday, and as expected, the judges took center stage. Fox is paying Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban a lot of money, so it makes sense that the first few minutes would be spent making sure we all knew what big stars they are.

But after the introductions and the obligatory crowd shots, once hopefuls actually got down to auditioning, the audience found something else was different this year: There was more casual meanness on Wednesday than in years past, in a sneaky kind of way, as if “Idol” were sending a message to its viewers.

Take Evan Ruggiero, for example. He was an inspiration, a cancer survivor who lost his leg to the disease but still has a perfectly nice voice, can play the guitar and sounds like a showman. He was a shoo-in to make it to Hollywood … except that’s not what happened. He got no votes at all – all four said they were inspired by him, but that doesn’t pay for the flight to California. Is the show that desperate to avoid a sixth straight guy-with-a-guitar champion?


Not quite as strange as the editing surrounding Brett Holt’s audition, however. The clips made it sound like he was one of the best voices ever and a unanimous pick to go through ... except that that was all a trick and he actually wasn’t good at all and got cut. What was the point of that?

One new wrinkle for “Idol” this season is that the show is going beyond the audition cities to seek talent. Randy Jackson went all the way to Staten Island (which may not seem far from New York City, unless you’re in a car during rush hour) to hear 19-year-old Jessica Kartalis after she was nominated by her mother. He gave her a pass to sing in front of the judges. Doesn’t that seem like a guaranteed golden ticket?

It wasn’t. Four more no votes. Thanks for nothing, Mom!

"Idol" also presented not one but two auditioners with heavy accents who failed to make it through: James Bae and Albert Chang. Plus William Hung got a shout-out later in the show.

And yes, there was sniping between Mariah and Nicki, but nothing too crazy – just disputes over hats and “Mean Girls” lines and British accents. It’s the amuse bouche for the drama that by all accounts is coming later.

“Idol” did spend some time on singers we’ll be sure to hear again in Hollywood and perhaps beyond. Sarah Restuccio, for example, made it through with a country song, then cemented her status as an early favorite by performing Nicki's “Super Bass.” Changing the lyrics to “you all drink Coke” also indicates she has a keen grasp of the product placement forces that drive the show. Plus, based on her background clips, Sarah can shoot a bow and arrow, so if one of the twists this season is a “Hunger Games” type of event, she’s a good bet to go far.

Subway busker Frankie Ford advanced based on sheer force of personality as much as anything else. Ashlee Feliciano did a nice job closing the show and introducing her family, who fosters and adopts "medically complex" children. And while it’s hard to see Gurpreet Singh Sarin – “The Turbanator” – going far, at least he’ll get another chance to coordinate his outfits at the next stage of the competition. (Or "Idol" will digitally enhance his duds, as the show did with his turban.)

Viewers also got some trivia. For example, now we all know there’s a Camp Mariah, named after Mariah Carey. It serves nearly 300 New York City teenagers each summer in Fishkill, N.Y., and is a career awareness camp rather than a singing academy. Apparently, the career guidance hopeful Tenna Torres received was “make music,” because the Camp Mariah alum was the first to get her ticket to Hollywood.

We also found out that Mariah Carey is very good about making everything about Mariah Carey. Hard to believe that that would inspire conflict, but based on the preview clips, we’ll see a lot of that Thursday during the Chicago auditions.

What did you think of the season premiere? Did you agree with the judges on who to give Hollywood tickets to? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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