‘American Idol’: New Jersey, New Judges

Becky Bain | January 20, 2011 6:00 am

American Idol‘s Seasons 10 premiere during the New Jersey auditions looked like the reality competition juggernaut we’ve grown accustomed to the past nine seasons (or the first seven, anyway, before Kara and Ellen helped bounce the show clear over the shark), but there was something off – and it wasn’t the brand new intro, which looked like it took place in a fancy new American Idol-themed hotel in Las Vegas. (That’s totally going to exist at some point, isn’t it?) It was that the show was missing it’s key figure: Simon.

We aren’t just talking about the lack of insults, although, and as much as you feel bad admitting, pointing out people’s flaws can be entertaining. In fact, that’s what really what made Simon Cowell the household name he is – he said what was thought too rude to say to a stranger. Not that he would call people ugly – we’re not talking about bullying as entertainment – but because he was so clever in how he dished it out. (““You look like the Incredible Hulk’s wife”: genius!) Hearing “It’s a no, sweetie” or polite-yet-stern criticism may be courteous, but it isn’t good TV.

But besides Simon’s deliciously cruel personality, what was more lacking from the facelifted (and boy do we mean that literally) judges’ table is the lack of blunt honesty.

Several times throughout the night, the new judges – even Randy – seemed uncomfortable doing the job they were hired to do. They would feel wishy-washy or negative about a performance, and based on the other judges’ (usually Jennifer Lopez’s) positive critique and insistence that the questionable contestant be put through, would change their vote to an indifferent yes. None of them seemed to be standing by their initial thoughts. Why should we trust their musical instincts to find a star if even they don’t seem to believe they know what they’re talking about?

The worst of the bunch was Lopez, who – in a complete 180 from Paula Abdul’s hilariously bizarre outfit choices, looked stunning in every dazzling outfit – seemed like she might cry having to tell a sweet girl with no chance in hell a simple “no”. She does know she is being paid quite a bit of money not do strike poses (well, we’re sure some of her paycheck goes to that), but to judge people? She couldn’t even squeak out the simple truth – that the girl could not sing – without struggling.

Pretty much all of them seemed scared to give a no, letting people go through to Hollywood who clearly were put on the show by producers as a joke. For example, Snooki’s older sister, the orange-skinned, star-boobed Tiffany Rios:

We feel only heartbreak for all the terribly amazing things Simon would have said to this girl, from her overbearing, schmaltzy performance to the fact that her lips are the same terrible bronze color as her skin. (Hey, someone had to say it.)

Or how about letting through Ashley Sullivan, a decent showtune belter, who may just be the most irritating person on Earth, and who also thinks that “pop needs to get with Liza Minneli”? All three were clearly leaning toward a definite no until Ashley poured out the waterworks and begged to go to Hollywood. And they put her through, even after basically telling her that pop stardom was not her thing, dawg. Giving people a pass just because you feel bad for them isn’t doing them any favors. We can’t even say Ashley’s quirky awkwardness would make good TV, since we wanted to smash our DVRs with a hammer every time she spoke.

Can you imagine what it would be like if Warner Brothers attempted to continue the Harry Potter series after Part 2 of the Deathly Hallows without Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Ruper Grint? Sure, people would still show up — it is a beloved institution at this point – and it would still make a ton of money. But it certainly would never be as magical as it once was.

That’s what it felt like watching the premiere of American Idol‘s tenth season last night — as though Fox were attempting to replicate the same phenomenon AI once was by tweaking the superficial images and laying it on the same basic foundation. It didn’t really work.

That said, it was the first episode, and Tyler and Lopez are just getting settled. (Randy, you have no excuse.) Let’s see if they get their cajones tonight and actually start judging.

We’ll leave you with your Idol “moment of zen”: Yogi “Pop”, the Japanese Michael Jackson impersonator singing “Party In The USA”. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!