“American Idol” Premiere Recap: Best Judge Lineup Ever?

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In case you need a legitimate reason to check out the thirteenth season of American Idol, here’s one: This is the first season where none of the judges are embarrassed by one other.

Think about it. From seasons one to eight, Simon Cowell rolled his eyes at Paula Abdul, who was usually rolling her eyes on accident. In season nine, Ellen DeGeneres winced at all of Simon’s callous remarks as if they were stains on her syndication-friendly reputation. In seasons ten and eleven, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson giggled in terror whenever your great aunt Steven Tyler purred at female contestants. In season 12, the whole panel refrained from weeping when Mariah Carey would attempt legitimate criticisms and instead wind up reciting Jacqueline Bisset‘s entire Golden Globes speech.

But finally, with the new lineup of Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez, and returnee Keith Urban, the mix is mysteriously perfect. Not only are the judges comfortable, but for the first time ever, we’re seeing comfortable disagreements about the singing contestants wailing their guts out. Friendly, but firm disagreements. Articulate disagreements. Entertaining, mature disagreements. It’s like ADULTS ARE TALKING. It really is! You’re watching a conversation you might like to join. When Harry shook his head and dismissed his colleagues’ fawning over one particular contestant with a quick ““Some people are easily impressed by licks,” I about cheered. I don’t know how this quality of real conversation could’ve been absent for 12 seasons, but the problem might’ve been that barking pile of sentence fragments, whoops, and empty chucklefits named Randy Jackson. Just a guess.

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The not-so-secret ingredient of this perfect picture is Connick, who has been inarguably the best mentor of Idol contestants for a few seasons running. Remember when he stopped sweet ‘n sassy Amber Holcomb during her rehearsal of “My Funny Valentine,” forced her to recite the words aloud and learn what they meant? “He’s ugly!” Connick exclaimed about the song’s subject. Yeah. That was sincerely awesome and helpful of him, particularly in a competition where teenage contestants who don’t know of a world without Snapchat are expected to learn and understand the works of, say, Lorenz Hart. Good on Harry. Will.i.am and Mary J. Blige didn’t really compare as mentors in that way, it must be said.

Another improvement this season? As of the debut episode, we saw far fewer losers try out. You can pretend you love the cringe-worthy auditions, but they always hit the same, expected beats: delusional confessionals, awkward badinage with the judges, a few seconds of terrible singing, a saunter offstage. It’s just not as novel or shocking as it used to be, and since you’re looking at three judges who clearly care about music being good, their reactions aren’t priceless enough to make embarrassment a theatrical treat. Simon’s bemused rage feels old on X Factor, and it’d be old here too.

I think we’re in for an entertaining season, and I think Harry’s going to lead the way with stern commitment to justice. The good news for me is this will lead to plenty of Harry’s Law references, so please be sure to brush up on the recent TV works of Kathy Bates. They’ll be pertinent to your understanding of my recaps and American Idol in general.

Since I’ve got a very important day of Oscar gossip ahead of me, let’s spring ahead to the five best auditions of episode one. I really liked a few of these sangin’ kids! I’m not sure I’ve heard anything in the arena of my alltime faves Melinda Doolittle and Kelly Clarkson yet, but I don’t expect perfect unicorn vocalists to emerge on the first day. Here are my favorite five from the premiere night of Harry’s La-La-La!

5. Lindsey Pedicone’s purr reaches the bottom of the riverrrRRRrrr.

Uggggh, I do enjoy a woman who purrs like her dad’s in the clink and the law exactly ain’t her friend either. She’s in the same vocal world as my wronged season 10 darling Didi Benami, whose rendition of “Rhiannon” I still prefer over the goddess Haley Reinhart‘s. If only Lindsay hadn’t worn Spirograph-stained leggings, I could fully endorse her. As such, she is my fifth place candidate.

4. The dark side of Savion Wright is ALL LIGHT, Y’ALL

Was it the most impressive vocal of the evening? Not particularly. But it was maybe the most spirited, and Savion’s incredible discipline (It took him eight years of practice before he felt right auditioning?) evinced some niiiiice maturity. Maturity is the theme of this whole episode. Maturity! I’m Lovin’ It. And I also loved Harry jokingly deadpanning, “It sucked” to no one in particular.

3. Malcolm Allen’s talent is written on the wall.

OK, OK: probably the single best vocal of the day. I mean, he started on “Superstition,” a song I thought I never needed to hear again, and a buttery chocolate river oozed forth from the TV screen. It was a next-level Willy Wonka maelstrom, and I was diving in it like Augustus Gloop’s gay soul brother. I dock points for picking one of the single most overplayed Idol songs, but not everyone needs to bebop on Stevie Wonder‘s “Master Blaster” like DeAndre Brackensick. Though it must be said: Malcolm is definitely a better vocalist than DeAndre, who placed in the top 10 on season 11. Impressive. We’ll be seeing plenty more of this guy.

 

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