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'American Idol' finally has a grown-ups table

Season 10 and "American Idol" finally brought in a couple of pros.

Whether or not new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will be able to find and foster an actual pop star or generate the love/hate buzz of their predecessors remains to be seen.

But moments into Wednesday night’s season premiere, it was gratifyingly clear that for the first time in a long time the fumblings and flailings of contestants fighting to find their feet on stage will not be mirrored by the judges table.

Not only are they great to look at, Lopez and Tyler are long-time stars who have nothing to gain, or lose, by being part of "American Idol."

And after the bipolar antics of last year's woefully mismatched panel -- including a zombified Ellen DeGeneres and a manically flirtatious Kara DioGuardi -- their natural confidence in front of the camera was such a blessed relief that it was hard to miss even the bracing ballistics of Simon Cowell.

A "selected scenes" preview DVD sent out by Fox last week was slightly troubling, with Tyler clearly being cast as the crazy Captain Jack Sparrow of the group and Lopez its Lady Madonna.

During the first two days of auditions in New Jersey, the two certainly had their moments -- Tyler got bleeped several times; Lopez hugged one weeping contestant and appeared genuinely agonized the first time she had to vote no -- but both were confident in their choices and professional in their reasoning.

"Baby, you got so much drama but you've got no notes," Tyler told one young woman, quickly establishing himself as capable of telling the truth in a colorful but nonhostile way.

"We say yes, to the singing," Lopez said firmly to Tiffany Rio who had opened her jacket to reveal a bikini top bedecked with two strategically placed stars. "Work on that. You want to be taken seriously."

For much of the two hours, Randy Jackson mostly played the bemused veteran. "I think they're both insane," he said at one point when his co-judges sent one young woman on to Hollywood after she told them she wanted to be the "Liza Minelli of pop music."

It was a role that suited him after years of being the panel's undeniable "also ran," and there was something so eminently sane about the new trio, something so professional yet friendly about, to borrow a very over-used "Idol" term, the energy in the room that even Jackson seemed shiny and new, more relaxed and less reliant on tired tics and posturing.

Jackson, and virtually everyone else has said repeatedly that Cowell is irreplaceable and that is certainly true in terms of biting wit and his signature air of jaded impatience.

But Cowell always viewed performers through the gimlet eye of a producer, the money man who saw success more as a marketing formula than a matter of personality or even talent. To Cowell, even passion was simply part of a grander equation.

Tyler and Lopez are performers, time- and road-tested, who have experienced failure as well as success, and even in the first two hours the difference in how they perceive performances made the show more interesting than it has been in a while.

Although they seem to understand, as Cowell did, that false hope is not an act of kindness, they may see things that past judges did not.

"You won’t find many people like that, that kind of enthusiasm," Tyler said of the Liza wannabe who essentially pleaded her way into the next round. "I am going to personally work that into something good."

He may be all talk, the initial good cheer may wear thin and we may be begging to be slapped around by Cowell in a few weeks, but for now it's just nice to have judges who aren't learning how to be stars themselves. Which means that this year, maybe the show can be about finding a real American idol.

-- Mary McNamara 

Photo: Tyler, Lopez and Jackson at the judging table. Credit: Michael Becker/Fox.

Comments () | Archives (30)

My God, I need Simon Cowell! This show is nothing without him!! Cannot wait for the X Factor.....

American Idol is done.

Yes, good analysis.

LOTS better than last year.

Good point "the fumblings and flailings of contestants fighting to find their feet on stage will not be mirrored by the judges table". As a newbie Idoloonie it is refreshing to see a reality-based show not using the fake wrestling antics of drawing attention to whether you love or hate the judges (more of the latter). It's nice to focus on the real talent, the contestants, and to consider whether "it" is there or not.

Couldn't watch it--was too boring. Tired of JLo's cutesy ways. Found myself wishing Paula was there.

Oh! you're right...silly me! Of course Steven Tyler's voyeurism with female contestants (to the extent that the other judges felt the need to leave the room) is infinitely more mature that Kara's manic flirting...

I really liked it when Steven Tyler told a contestant that they had to give it their all and sing they way they would sing when no one was arond because someone will love their voice. That was really cool and such a great way to start Idol this year.

It seemed to be girls' night at this premier episode. Almost all the contestants we actually got to hear who went through were females. I know there were guys at the Noo Joizey audition. I used my magnifying glass on my hi-def TV when they showed the stadium and yes, there were lots of guys! But we heard very few.
Hopefully they will show fewer train wrecks in the coming weeks - those really bad performers they allow to go to the celeb judge level to prove there are train wrecks who audition, for some ungodly reason.

I had long given up on Idol,but I like JLo and I didn,t know anything about Tyler,so I watched and laughed and laughed,Not at the contestants but at the antics of the panel.What fun!

Snooze-fest. The judges seem incapable of saying anything meaningful or memorable. Randy seems lost and clueless. And the talent was weak in this first episode, yet 55 kids went off to Hollywood. We were promised some of the best singers in the history of the show, yet I found myself cringing at notes which seemed to be making the judges swoon. I may not have musical training, but a cringe is still a cringe, right?

It saws a pretty terrible start, all and all. Very boring panel. AI didn't just jump the shark, they gutted it and displayed it on a platter.

I was waiting to see what Ms. Lopez and Mr. Tyler would bring to AI and how they would interact with Mr. Jackson. This is a great trio of judges. And Steve Tyler is terrific. He is thoughtful in his comments and frank in his assessment of talent. The would-be idols look promising, too. I can't wait to see what happens in the Big Easy tonight. Ms. Lopez could not be more beautiful. AI is still worth the time to watch.

They let some really horrible contestants through. Just say "no" Jenny, you'll be doing us a favor.

I think it's funny that they still act like that entire stadium of hopefuls actually walks in front of the three judges. They never really talk about the pre-screening that goes on in the stadium.

FOX didn't a very, very bad job of promoting the first show of the season this year. i didn't know it was on until I flipped to it.

The new judges gave positive energy to the show. I have always beena big fan of Tyler, and it is great to see this 60something star in a new venue. His comments were hilarious, mostly positive and insightful to his own creative mind.

JLo: compassionate, pretty, assured yet also showed the trainwrecks "how to" become a star.

It was also a lot of fun when Tyler--time and time joined in with the auditioners pounding or singing along. What a rush it must have been for these young people to be performing WITH such talent!

----Worcester, MA

Steven Tyler was all lanky id, with just a hint of menace. Loved it.

I'm not sure what show Mary was watching but the one I saw was AWFUL!
I cannot even look at ST....most of the performers had NO talent. I had to switch off couldn't stand much more. I'm done with AI.

I missed Simon...like a ROOT CANAL.
The energy in the revamped Idol was joyous and positive, something we greatly need.

Agree with the article, and really enjoyed the chemistry of the group. I believe they have much to give in terms of evaluating performers and their potential. They're good natured, professional, and appear to be able to give honest, straight-forward and useful feedback. I am looking forward to this season!

LOVED THE 1st SHOW! We're short goofballs, WHERE ARE THEY?! Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Hated it. Steven Tyler's just plain weird

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