“American Idol” got the introductions out of the way early in its season premiere, rolling out its “superstar judging panel” of Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and (not exactly a superstar, but the one holdover) Randy Jackson.
Was it really just last year that Simon Cowell was still the show’s anchoring presence, and Paula Abdul had yet to say confusing things to dancers on CBS, just like the spaced-out monologues she used to deliver on “Idol?” How time flies.
It’s early, of course, to draw any conclusions about the show, given the significant changes. But it’s pretty clear the formula remains the same, the only question being which forces win out ratings-wise — a combination of gravity (most everything in TV sags sooner or later), curiosity (sometimes a makeover can be helpful in an older show), star power (Cowell had it), and finally, whether the basic fantasy of the format is bigger than the regular talent. We’ll see.
In terms of style, Tyler is a wild card: playful, a helluva lot nicer than Cowell — and less able to articulate criticism. He’s also a little bit pervy, but somehow, being a rock star, that seems less offensive — or maybe he just has more practice.
Lopez is less ditsy than Abdul, but also pretty relentlessly upbeat — and prone to agonize over saying “No.” In addition, her star quality has a rather odd effect on the contestants, reminding us that ordinary folk can become a little crazed when exposed to favorite celebrities. Lopez’s beauty also shouldn’t be underestimated, as made-for-TV assets go.)
The lowlight might have come when Tyler and Lopez passed through a woman simply because she begged and cried. Oddly, that leaves Jackson as the most analytical voice (he almost seems to have upped his game, dawg) — and may unwittingly heighten Ryan Seacrest’s otherwise-bland presence.
Ultimately, this new “Idol” will catch on — or not — once it has contenders who captivate the public’s interest. Frankly, it’s never been my favorite show, and I could never really get into the alternating snark and schmaltz in these initial auditions.
For all that, when the candidates light up, cry or present their sob stories, one suspects Fox and the producers have a pretty good shot at surviving the thing that those in television most fear: Being forced to mess with success.