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Hollywood brings changes for ‘American Idol’

Everyone was eager to see what Ellen DeGeneres would add to the broadcast, and from her first phrase as a judge, she delivered.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

The winter weather may be bringing another 20 inches of snow to the Washington, D.C., area, but never fear! The “American Idol” coverage cannot be denied by the worst winter to hit the region in 20 years. But if you don’t hear anything from me tomorrow, send help. And snow shovels.

It does make me jealous for the people who got to go to Hollywood, where it’s presumably warm. And it’s even worse because this season’s Hollywood round offered a new spark that the last few years have lacked.

That’s Ellen DeGeneres, of course. Everyone was eager to see what she’d add to the broadcast, and from her first phrase as a judge, she delivered. “I’ll tell you what I do know — I do know what it’s like to stand on stage and try and please a roomful of people. That is hard to do,” she said.

She followed that up by addressing the Simon Cowell issue, for the first time in the show. “So this is it, huh? I come on, you leave,” she said to Simon, summing up the story in 10 words and eclipsing the amount of coherent Paula Abdul sound bites from the past three years combined. This Ellen thing just might work out after all ...

The other change of note: Coke is out! At least, it’s no longer the logo on the ubiquitous drink cups the judges use. Vitaminwater Zero — which is a Coca-Cola Co. product — gets the honor instead.

Then it was onto the singers themselves. The first two days of Hollywood basically cut the field in half, resulting in a lot of mano-a-mano competition where two singers with compelling backstories get featured. One gets told to step forward and one back, which means one singer goes on while the other is sent packing.

“Idol” set the tone early when Katie Stevens got sent to the next round while Antonio Wheeler got the boot. Wheeler’s famous for being “Skiiboski,” which means the best nickname in the show’s nine-year history didn’t even make it 24 hours. Oh, the humanity!

Andrew Garcia then brought out his guitar and did a stellar “Straight Up” that wowed the judges and was the best vocal of the day. “Paula would be screaming and yelling and dancing,” judge Kara DioGuardi said of the performance, but that’s a pretty low bar to cross, as the ex-judge was known for her screaming and yelling and dancing and all-around frivolity, whether it made sense or not.

Vanessa Wolfe did not wind up in the same row as Garcia, which was bad news for the country girl from Tennessee who we got to see jump off bridges before her first audition. She got the bad, and told the cameras, “I blew it. I’m sorry Mom,” as everyone in the audience cried. At least she got to ride on an airplane for the first time.

Of course, not everything went according to the pattern. The judges liked both teenager Haeley Vaughn and veteran rocker Mary Powers, though the two women could not be more different vocally. We can only hope that they wind up in the same crew for the group sing in Wednesday’s episode.

Michael Lynche got the solo feature because he wins the award for having the most understanding wife. Her water broke the morning of his initial Hollywood vocal, and she told him to stay there and come home with a spot in the final 24. He got his wish, with the very appropriate “Waiting for the World to Change.” It’s changing, buddy. Take it from a father of two.

Casey James had to take his shirt off to get attention in his first audition, but did plenty well and moved on without removing a single article of clothing in Hollywood.

Others getting the ticket home: Beatboxer Jay Stone (depriving “Idol” of “Blake Lewis II: The Sequel”), Erica Rhodes (the former PBS child actor who auditioned in the dominatrix outfit) and the Jersey girls (sisters Bernadette and Amanda Desimone). The latter got some support from Mom, who said, “They’re my American Idols.” That’s great, but they won’t be ours.

The first day ended on an up note, with Didi Benami and Crystal Bowersox both advancing. “You’re infectious. People like you, and that’s a head start,” Simon said of Bowersox. But will that get her past the dreaded group sing? We’ll find out Wednesday.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at .