It was only two years ago that “American Idol” signed off the air, seemingly forever as the screen faded to black. Then, host Ryan Seacrest threw the audience for a loop with two words: “For now.”
Each word carried a sentence of a year, it seems, as “Idol” is baaaaaack. And for those of us who are fans of the show, that might as well have been a lifetime, as Seacrest, quoting season one winner Kelly Clarkson, remarked at the top of the new season — that which does not have a number, apparently.
Fortunately, there was a reminder of the show’s recent — and distant — past in the way of season four winner Carrie Underwood, who narrates the voice-over about music inspiring dreams. “It happened to me,” she says, no doubt inspiring millions of smiles. But with that nod to what came before, we enter into new, but familiar, territory as judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan take their seats at the table.
So what’s different? For one, the ABC version of “Idol” explodes on the screen in eye-popping Technicolor, thanks to the Disney palette and Perry, who never squanders an opportunity for glitter. As the show’s highest paid judge, Perry is also the panel’s defacto leader and the one most likely to trigger a meme, as she did in praising starstruck vocal powerhouse Noah Davis who could only mutter the word “Wig” out of excitement, confusing Bryan in the process.
Don’t get it twisted — Katy Perry is outstanding and everything you want in a judge. She dances with contestants, accepts their gifts and consoles them. Dare we say, her handling of Sinatra like-crooner Zach D’onofrio would have given Harry Connick Jr. a run for his money.
Veteran “Idol” watchers remember how far back Perry goes with this show — from wearing a cape adorned with Adam Lambert’s name in season eight to a famed argument with then judge Kara DioGuardi over whether or not judges are voting on vocal talent or “stories.”
To that end, Perry seems to be sticking to her guns in trying not to be swayed by a contestant’s story and promising to be a straight-shooter. She’s not mean, but she does tell it like it is. Like when explaining to crooner Ron Boltongez from Africa that, while she respected his being an immigrantwith an abusive father, “I don’t know who you are at all. … You know how to imitate, but you haven’t found your thing yet.”
Another difference in the 2018 panel: instead of saying “no,” these judges opt for, “not yet.” Rejected contestants are brought back for another shot. And while at first it seems like the season was going to be kind to all — quirky Catie Turner earned a golden ticket and brotherly advice from Bryan to stay off Instagram to avoid meanies — we also get Koby, a delusional musical theater performer that chose to audition as if she were running scales.
“You are NOT a pop star,” Perry tells her, as Koby walks off to Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and explodes in a tirade calling the show “dumb asses.”
Ah, yes. An old school joke audition followed by Harper Grace, who at 11 years old was responsible for the worst ever National Anthem before Fergie said “hold my beer.” While her anthem did her no favors, Grace impressed the judges with an original and an inspired cover of Khalid’s “Young, Dumb and Broke.”
The Golden tickets continued with sister act Layla and Dyxie Spring, who is our first “American Idol” Golden ticket winner of 2026 –if the show gets renewed that far in advance. Big sister Layla, who she looks up to, auditions with “Who’s Loving You?” which she credits to The Jackson 5 and not Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Spring is a younger version of country favorite Kellie Pickler in the naïve young singer department, and to Richie’s credit, he gives the 16-year old a major truth bomb about the music business.
“It’s a mental game, and I don’t want to give you that opportunity and you get there and it destroys you,” he said, before it is revealed that she is going to Hollywood sooner than her little sister. She is one to root for, and one hopes that Hollywood doesn’t eat her alive.
In the not-ready-to-advance department is Brandon Cruz, who got a cashier job to meet girls. He apparently auditioned just to get a kiss from Perry, because in no way did he have the chops to earn a ticket. While he is promptly shown the door, Bryan (who is turning out to be the Paula Abdul of this panel, he is so dash-gum nice) kindly advises him to “get a little better at singing.”
And while some were secretly hoping punk rocker Nico Bones — who said he loved playing rock in clubs for the “free drinks” (honesty that’s appreciated!) — would advance to the next round, he promptly blows it with a plugged-in, punk version of “The Worm Song.”
“I am so happy you cut off that song when you did,” Richie said to Perry.
The head-scratching moments didn’t stop there. For instance, how in the world did Sardor Milano win Russia’s “X Factor?” Was there collusion? It was like a cat, falling from the top of the Empire State Building (whoops, wrong judge and ‘Idol” season).
Also in shades of the show’s past on FOX, the best is saved for the “money spot” — in this case Philadelphia musician Dennis DeLorenzo, who had a rough life after his father was murdered when he was just five. DeLorenzo is authentic, impressing the judge with a jazz-fueled acoustic interpretation of “Unaware.” Here we have a serious contender who’s hungry for the win.
While it seems we have our top ten contenders locked in on night one, the second round of auditions airs on Monday night and there are many more hopefuls yet to come. Will you be tuning in?