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Review: American Idol 2.0 looks a lot like the old version



judging_nj_day1_0330.jpgAfter months of hype about judge changes, format updates and rule tweaks, Wednesday’s debut of a brand new American Idol revealed a surprising truth.

American Idol 2.0 looks an awful lot like the first version. At least, so far.

It would seem impossible. With Aerosmith belter Steven Tyler and pop star Jennifer Lopez joining old hand Randy Jackson at the judges table -- just as the show’s real rock star Simon Cowell departs -- industry types and fans alike were expecting an overhaul that would make New Coke look like a minor revision.

That may eventually come when the live episodes roll out, with a new band and new contestant mentor. But what viewers saw Wednesday was the same old mix of freaks and rough diamonds that fill every Idol audition episode, minus Cowell’s trademark, super snarky putdowns and mega-maniacs like the Pants on the Ground Guy.

And as much as producers insist this year’s shows will focus on the contestants, Wednesday’s clips from auditions in New Jersey often tried  making you love the new kids in town – with segments showing how much Idol auditioners idolize Jenny from the Block and lust after senior citizen rocker Tyler.

In fact, Tyler proved the show’s secret weapon Wednesday , loaded down with enough rock ‘n’ roll lecherousness and folksy sayings to fill a spin off series of his own. “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?” he asked one particularly awful contestant, in what would prove the sharpest (and funniest!) line of the night.

judging_nj_day1_1306.jpg“What’s with the ooh, ooh bees on your juju bees?” he asked another girl who had pasted stars on her ample chest, later treating the Idol audience to the sight of a 62-year-old celebrity ogling women younger than his own movie star daughter. Kinda like watching the Cryptkeeper size up new prey.

Tyler was the unpredictable energy in the room, balancing Jackson’s occasionally incomprehensible hipster patter and Lopez’s seeming unwillingness to get tough with marginal singers. “Why did I sign up for this?” she agonized at one point over an awkward hopeful Cowell would have dispatched with evil glee. “How did you do this for 10 years?”

The danger for me here, was in pining for a Idol that never really existed, exalting Cowell’s mean-spirited broadsides as brave truth-telling instead of the baldfaced trolling for buzz-building controversy they really were.

But watching Lopez, Tyler and Jackson allow clearly delusional singers to tackle “one more song,” left me wistful for the days when Cowell would bring the hammer down. When one throaty Grace Jones clone claimed her vocal teacher was trying to get her to lose her accent, I swear I heard Cowell’s voice telling her to demand her money back.

judging_nj_day1_1760.jpgInstead, the kinder, gentler Idol let the freaks mostly embarrass themselves, with one shopping mall clerk literally crying her way into a golden ticket to the show’s Hollywood Week round.

Opening with a girl who auditioned for Idol four seasons ago – Lopez impossibly claimed to remember her from watching the show as fan – the show featured a once-wheelchair bound kid with a golden voice, a 16-year-old girl who family survive war in Kosovo and a guy in cargo shorts whose mother sang Sinatra better than he did.

“We did amazing,” concluded Jackson at the show’ end, sounding suspiciously like he was trying to convince us viewers more than anyone.

But with new faces playing the same old game, we may not discover just how well they’ve done until a little further down the line.


[Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 11:21pm]


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