Film and TV

Idol Beat: Here We Go Again...

Finally, after months of anticipation (or dread, depending on your pain tolerance), the new and *cough* "improved" American Idol made its debut. At long last we can start to put an end to the speculation about the show's 10th season: will Jennifer Lopez out-diva Ryan Seacrest? Can the show survive the departure of Simon Cowell? After "Don't Want to Miss A Thing," has Steven Tyler finally lost the will to live?

We'll also see the effects of the other changes to AI, including dropping the contestants' lower age limit to 15 and allowing hopefuls to audition on MySpace...I guess someone at Fox nixed the idea of letting them send in daguerreotypes by Pony Express. There's also reportedly some mixing up of the format of the semifinal rounds, but we'll have more time to cover that in exhaustive detail as the weeks pass by.

For now, only one thing matters: the cruel yet hilarious schadenfreude of the early rounds. Take it away, New York City/New Jersey.

No season premiere of Idol is complete without ten or 15 minutes of self-congratulatory introductory bullshit, which is host Ryan Seacrest's carb-free bread and butter. The "controversy" over selecting Tyler and Lopez only enhanced this season's "epic search" as it ushered in the "new era" of American Idol. At one point J-Lo asks, "Why did I sign up for this?" We can sympathize.

Things get off to an unexpected start when the the first several contestants fail to suck. Rachel from Season 6 gets through, as well as the season's first 15-year old contestant, Kenzie Palmer. Here's a free tip to all the teenage female contestants: don't ever tell Steven Tyler you'll "do anything he wants" to get to Hollywood. The guy spent most of the show growling in feral approval at every half decent pair of boobs that walked into the room.

He showed a little more backbone than Lopez, however, who was clearly uncomfortable giving anyone a thumbs-down. She even commiserated with one contestant over their mutual love of musical theater. I'm sure I'm not the only one who got that vibe from Anaconda. Apparently no one wants to to step into Simon's shoes this year, which is going to make for some excruciating moments down the road.

This being the first episode, of course, there were plenty of folks who have no business on a stage deservedly getting the boot. I don't remember the names, but the ones who leap immediately to mind were the Japanese Michael Jackson wannabe singing Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A.," the Eagle Scout in training butchering "My Way" (I'm glad I don't have sons, because I won't have to worry about how to gently steer them away from scouting), and the girl from the Ivory Coast whom I actually thought did a nicely Brechtian take on Madonna's "Dress You Up."

Among the winners was Adrien Brody lookalike Robbie Rosen, who sang "Yesterday" in the same testicularly-challenged style Idol adores. Welcome to Hollywood, Justin Guarini Jr.

Also punching a golden ticket was North Carolina's Victoria Huggins -- whose perpetually "on" persona made me want to slap her parents -- waitress Devyn Rush, daughter of Kosovar refugess Melinda Ademi, and plus-sized Guidette Tiffany Rios.

But forget about them. My favorite so far is this girl:

That's Ashley Sullivan from Springfield, Massachusetts. She's 25, works in the mall, and may be the first meth-head contestant to make it past the first round. She's the antithesis of every stage-managed-since-the-womb contestant we see on the show trying to earn mommy's love.

You can tell from the desperation in Sullivan's eyes and her...erratic behavior that she was likely abandoned at age four. If she doesn't go all the way, hopefully she at least makes it to one of the live rounds before slipping into the violent psychotic outburst you can see simmering behind all that eyeliner.

Next up: New Orleans, where we'll find out if that bridge all the contestants were lined up on is the same one the police wouldn't let people walk across following Hurricane Katrina. The Big Easy really is back.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar