American Idol 9 began its four-month run last night with an episode that was very, very familiar, that sometimes worked but sometimes showed its age and staleness. For the most part, no one really stood out, at least not like someone who already had the combination of personality and chops that the show requires.
The most notable part of the debut for me was how completely unnoticeable it was that Paula Abdul wasn’t there. Because I initially missed the first minute or so, I didn’t see the few seconds devoted to Paula’s exit, and didn’t realize her absence until an early auditioner confused Kara DioGuardi with Paula. “She thinks I’m Paula,” Kara said, and even after the auditioner was corrected, she repeated it to Ryan Seacrest after being rejected. He said, “Paula? What audition were you in?”
Paula’s absence wasn’t really felt in part because there were other people to clash with Simon, and because Paula may not have contributed a whole lot beyond nonsense. Also, in the fourth chair, Victoria Beckham was a good guest judge, telling one singer, “You don’t have the goods to back it up.” Later, she said he was “hideously arrogant, even more arrogant than Simon.”
The Boston auditions had the typical losers and delusional idiots, and best of all, people who didn’t realize how funny they were. One guy, Derek Hilton, told us he started “gragitating to music” at one point in his life, and promised, “I’ll touch numerous amounts of people.” When Victoria Beckham asked him why he likes Chris Brown, the guy said, “I just like how he touches young kids around this world. It’s beautiful.”
That was funny, but the episode overall seemed to have a problem with its tone; it was awkwardly flat. The auditions always transition between emotional stories (cancer survivors, grandmothers with Alzheimer’s), nitwits, and mediocre singers, but alternating between mocking people (like a flaming 17-year-old singing “Womanizer” who got a fake and totally unnecessary edit and fake reaction shots when he tried to get waiting auditioners to call out to him) and briefly celebrating others didn’t quite work like it has before.
Perhaps that’s because there were few extremes; neither insane stand-outs nor truly insane people. There was also a bit too much heavy-handed producer bullshit, like with Andrew Fenlon, who was upset by waiting, and who was obviously kept waiting to annoy him even more. The payoff was okay, because his attitude irritated both Simon (“If you want to carry on being a smart ass, you can leave the room.”) and Kara (“I am now angry at you, who I don’t like at all,” “You need a spanking”), and Kara made a good point that he shouldn’t be irritated about waiting for a day to get an opportunity few people ever get.
But if this is the best American Idol can do now, bring on X Factor.