It was bound to happen. Simon Cowell leaves Fox's American Idol, and the show turns…nicer. Last night, the new judging team—Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler—saw the usual, early-audition mix of great singers, mediocre ones and just plain laughable ones. But this time, a lot more Idol wannabes got through to Hollywood. At least it felt that way as a home viewer.
If you were one of the Idol watchers turned off by Cowell's direct nature and mean-spirited quips, then you probably loved last night's episode. If you found Cowell's honesty refreshing and his comments funny, then you sorely missed him last night. None of the judges said anything remotely as clever and/or biting as Cowell used to. And they were much more likely to give nervous contestants the benefit of the doubt.
For good singers as well as average ones, Tyler's signature comment seemed to be: "You sang beautiful." And Lopez actually made a point of expressing how uncomfortable she was with rejecting contestants. "How did you do this for ten years?" she asked Jackson early in the episode. That decade of experience did give Jackson the resolve to turn several contestants down, but he was often out-voted by the other two—who just didn't have the nerve. Thus we'll be seeing singers like the awful, Britney Spears-obsessed Ashley Sullivan again in Hollywood.
The flamboyant Tyler didn't disappoint in the kookiness department, which helped make the show more interesting. With the big mouth, lion's mane and aging face, he's fascinating to look at. But more importantly, you never know what he's going to say next. Producers had to bleep out his profanity twice in the first five or ten minutes of the show. "What? I'm not allowed to say that?" he cried, seemingly shocked. Sadly, though, his famously flirty nature sometimes came off as lecherous. The way he eyed the naively exuberant 16-year-old Victoria Huggins was downright creepy. "I love the skirt," Lopez commented. "Oh, yeah," Tyler said, salaciously. "Just the right amount showing." Yuck.
For all Idol's recent hype about changing the show, the overall format stayed the same. The fresh start of Season 10 would have been a perfect opportunity to lose the syrupy sob stories about contestants who'd overcome wheelchairs or homelessness. But perhaps that's cynical; the producers probably continue to emphasize these stories because they bring some depth to the proceedings. And one new element was obvious: The plethora of younger contestants. This is the first year they've lowered the minimum age to 15, and boy, did that attract a lot more people!
It's way too early to judge the new Idol, or its new judges. But let's hope all the niceties don't bring the show down. If that happens, Cowell's X Factor will arrive this fall to take up Idol's mantle.
What did you think of the new 'Idol'? Chime in below!