American Idol 8 debuts tonight with a new judge and Phoenix’s bikini girl

American Idol takes over television again starting tonight when its eighth season debuts at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. The two-hour debut features auditions from Phoenix, in addition to the debut of new judge Kara DioGuardi. (Her name, as a segment in the premiere discusses, is apparently pronounced “care-ah,” not “car-a,” which is what Simon calls her.)

It’s pretty much the same show it always was, but what’s remarkable is how it manages to still actually squeeze entertainment out of the same thing we’ve seen seven other times. There are still many bad singers who are still so shockingly bad that they make you laugh. By my rough count, there’s about an even number of good and bad singers in tonight’s premiere, with some so-so ones thrown in the mix. But in two hours, only about 18 singers get extended segments, with a few shitty singer montages, never mind the now-famous bikini girl Katrina Darrell who was previously featured in an ad for the new season.

Besides that obnoxious segment and an unfortunate and unnecessary bit of come-out-of-the-closet joking late in the episode, everyone actually manages to be on their best behavior; in other words, Simon does not call someone a bush baby or mock a Special Olympian. The judges’ interaction is strong and seems to be rejuvenated; Paula is coherent and conscious, and I’m sticking with my prediction that she’ll be good for Idol because she’s pretty straightforward and honest, whether she’s being supportive or amusingly critical.

Since 27 from Phoenix went to Hollywood, that means we only know a third of them. If you want to figure out who you should pay attention to, the usually-accurate spoilers from Joe’s Place identifies those who made it to Hollywood or to the top 50, and provides helpful links to their MySpace pages or evidence of their acting, singing, or otherwise ringer-like career.

American Idol – SPOILERS – Contestant Listing Updated 1/9/09 [Joe’s Place Blog]

The Sing-Off loses its star

Ben Folds

NBC's super-fun December a capella singing competition The Sing-Off is returning, but without its star judge, Ben Folds, and only as a two-hour special. Those are really depressing changes for a series that proved itself to be a super-fun show when it returned last December.


A film director talks about becoming a reality TV character

Anna Martemucci

What is it like to have your life turned into reality TV? Director Anna Martemucci, one of the two directors featured on Starz' exceptional reality series, talks about that, the competition, and her collaboration with her husband and brother-in-law.

Plus: How the show's producers tried to keep the $250,000 competition fair.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.