Season 10 of the new, supposedly improved American Idol kicked off tonight, with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler joining old dawg Randy Jackson. J.Lo. was beautiful, sweet, and entirely inoffensive. Tyler looks more and more like Janice from the Muppets with each passing minute, but I enjoyed the mild air of perviness he brought to the proceedings.
Tonight's episode, the first half of the season premiere, took us through two days of auditions in New Jersey. (Tomorrow, the show heads to New Orleans; there will be several weeks of these massive group auditions before the pool is narrowed to 20 semifinalists in late February.)
There were the obligatory sob storiesa flight from Kosovo; a youth spent in a wheelchair; a father stricken with throat cancer and legions of people with perfectly serviceable church-choir voices whose names I've already forgotten.
I had high hopes for Paul Scheer doppelganger Michael Perotto. I thought it was charming, in a Napoleon Dynamite kind of way, how the 19-year-old admitted that he burps when he's nervous and identifies with Randy because they both "used to be real heavy people." But sadly, it was not meant to be. "Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?" Steven Tyler asked, after hearing Perotto's burpy rendition of "Proud Mary."
No, the "Surprise! This unattractive person can sing!" slot tonight went to Tiffany Rios, who demonstrated proper hair-teasing technique and a deplorable fashion sense. (Tyler, on Rios's star-spangled bra: "What's with the jujubes on your ooh-ooh-bees?" That guy!) The show seemed to be setting Rios up as a deluded foolparticularly when she started talking about she's been blessed with "a nice front and back area" but then she went pulled a Susan Boyle.
The two oddest auditions may not have achieved the dizzying cognitive overloads of " Pants on the Ground " or William Hung's "She-Bangs" (which I just can't bring myself to link to, because it breaks my heart), but they did approach a kind of performance art. Both featured foreigners with thick accents. (Sigh.) However, while the beautiful Achille Lovle made me supremely uncomfortable, I could watch Yoji "Pop" Asano's rendition of Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A." all day long. I think it's because he seems so above the whole process. "Oh me? I'm just doing my Michael Jackson thing over here. You want to watch me? Whatever."
Final thoughts: 16-year-old Victoria Huggins is kind of scary.* Her chirpiness seems like a cover for something very, very dark. And Travis Orlando, an adorable Bronx teenager with a hardscrabble past, seems well placed to be this season's breakout teenage dream. Judge for yourself: