Contrary to many expectations, “American Idol” might not be worse off with the judges’ panel for season 10. If nothing else, it’s definitely different.
Oh, don’t worry — most of the story lines are the same. The sob stories, the annoying teenagers, the surprising successes, the dreams being crushed … all those are back. This is “Idol,” after all. But the new crew looks like it will do two things: have more fun than the group did a year ago, and keep the Fox lawyers up at night worrying that Steven Tyler will do something that gets the network sued or the FCC to chime in.
Based on the New Jersey auditions, it didn’t take the judges long to become comfortable with one another, and they seemed to be having a good time out there. It’s hard to imagine the old group doing things like singing “I’m a Believer” along with an overwhelmed and hopeless auditioner, or knocking along with another contestant’s beat. And kudos to Tyler, who was a lot better than expected, showing a good sense of humor and a suitably sad face when he told people they stunk.
That having been said, Fox might want to increase the seven-second delay once the live show starts. It looks like the Aerosmith frontman says whatever is on his mind, which seems to focus a lot on what the women are wearing and how good it makes them look. Put it this way: If Tyler later gets accused of pulling a Paula Abdul to the season 10 version of Corey Clark, I’m not going to fall out of my chair in shock.
I remember you
The first contestant to sing before the judges was Rachel Zevita, who made it to Hollywood in season six before getting the boot her first day there. New judge Jennifer Lopez claimed to remember her previous work, so passed her to Hollywood even though the hopeful didn’t hit her potential in Jersey. So basically, Zevita is going to the next round because the season six folks liked her and her story enough to give her a few minutes of airtime four years ago. Who says editors and producers don’t matter?
Taking no chances
Tiffany Rios set a modern record for the number of different personality types she used in her audition. She was the crazy contestant who wore a pair of stars on her chest to draw attention and made up her own audition song, winning Steven Tyler over. She was a huge J.Lo fangirl who broke down when she saw the superstar and needed a hug from her to settle down. That vote was in the bag. And then she got a second chance and sang Celine Dion well enough to win Randy Jackson over.
What’s my age again?
How many preteens watch “American Idol”? We’ll find out that answer by seeing how long Victoria Huggins lasts. Between her cloying personality — she says she’s 16 and three-quarters, the kind of accuracy you used when you were 3 years old and trying to sound older — and the fact that the camera seems to follow her everywhere, she may stick around awhile. Unless we get lucky and the Disney Channel snaps her up instead.
From the streets to the bright lights
Travis Orlando was the traditional inspirational final act of the first audition. The 16-year-old from The Bronx had spent time in a shelter, which he and the “Idol” cameras revisited before he went before the judges and got his ticket to Hollywood. Kind of ironic, given that one of the big stories this week has been ex-contestant Alex Lambert tweeting about sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles.
Every season, the judges put someone through to Hollywood for no particular reason, and Ashley Sullivan got that honor in New Jersey. She carried a picture of Britney Spears for inspiration, then sang a showtune from “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and said that the pop world needed a new Liza Minnelli. Perhaps because she looked like she wouldn’t go anywhere until she was given a golden ticket, she got her wish. “You won’t find many people like that,” Tyler said after she left the stage. “That’s good though,” Randy responded.
Tyler took that as a challenge. “I’m going to personally work that into something good,” he said. Let that boast be written into the official season 10 record.
Chris Cordeiro was clearly in way over his head, with the charming naïveté that the "Idol" judges have always loved to stomp on, but he didn’t help himself by missing a chance to become famous. As a boy scout, he made a public service video urging his fellow teens “Don’t Text and Drive.” That has the same cadence as “Pants on the Ground,” which was last year’s audition sensation. If he’d just thought to insert those words over the old lyrics … who knows?
Since the auditions were in New Jersey, the show made jokes about talking in the big accent and wearing the big hair and not much else. But how could they not work with MTV to get some of the "Jersey Shore" people on? Who wouldn’t have wanted to see Snooki audition?
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at , where he live tweets each "Idol" show.