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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins’s First Take on the New Season

I haven’t watched a full episode of American Idol in years. Maybe the year Taylor Hicks won. He won, right? Or did he come in second to … Josh Hartnett or someone? Now I can’t remember why I know who Josh Hartnett is. Anyway, I somehow managed to not go crazy and drown myself in the tub as a result of not watching American Idol. I was fine living my life without it. But when Vulture asked me to do their AI recaps this season, well, I jumped at the chance. Because they offered to pay me five dollars a word. So I am very very very very very very very very very very happy to watch this season of American Idol, the television program on the FOX television network about a televised singing competition on television.

Now, I understand there has been some upheaval on Idol in recent years. Center-part enthusiast Simon Cowell felt it was time to laterally move on; he’ll be judging some other show exactly like this one. (Recapping that show will be someone else’s burden.) And after trying various combinations of unpleasant and faux-pleasant people as judges, the dust has settled, and we have a new tribunal in place. Original pitchy-priss and Black Drew Carey, Randy Jackson, has been joined by two “super” “stars:” former actress/eventual Zsa Zsa Gabor successor Jennifer Lopez, and a creature some say is a living candle, but whom I believe to be the Ghost of Steven Tyler.

Despite all the changes, this show is pretty much exactly where I left it. After a solid ten minutes of epileptically edited nothing, it is established that we are in New Jersey, and the season can begin in earnest with the usual parade of mentally ill fame-seekers and karaoke superstars.

First up is Rachel! She’s auditioned before. Jennifer Lopez — or “Jen-Lop” — recognizes her from seeing her on TV four seasons ago. This thrills Rachel, who proceeds to carry a tune. She carries it well enough! She’s in and on to Hollywood! Okay! We are off to a start, period!

Kenzie is next! She, too, sings pleasantly enough! She is also going on to Hollywood! How long have I been watching this episode! I bet not as long as it feels like! Please let something happen.

That something is Tiffany Rios, a sort of singing Snooki. Tiffany bursts into tears at the reality of Jen-Lop. As Jen-Lop goes to comfort Tiffany, hugging her, the Late Steven Tyler and Randrew exchange an awkward high-five/dap combo over the opportunity to check out their co-worker’s ass. Empathy takes many forms.

The show keeps happening. The Steven Tyler apparition is getting increasingly inappropriate and is dressed like a scarecrow of Charles Nelson Reilly.

Robbie Rosen, who looks veeeery “East Coast” (you know what I’m saying) sings “Yesterday,” and everyone is very moved because the Beatles were very good at songwriting. He’s in.

Time for a quick speed-through of some awful people. It’s pretty unremarkable as all the awful people are awful in the same way, and none of them even wear costumes. One guy burped a lot; that was new. In making fun of the burpist, the former Steven Tyler steals a line from Tommy Boy or Black Sheep. I refuse to look it up. Hey, you’re at your computer, too.

The March of Awfuls is over for now. A young lady named Ashley Sullivan wanders in from an episode of Breaking Bad and employs the “full emotional breakdown” tactic to move on to the next round. Hey, if your selection from Thoroughly Modern Millie can’t close the deal, fall down and cry. If she starts cutting I bet she makes it into the top twenty.

The terrifying Victoria Huggins gets through to Hollywood by singing “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and thus takes her first steps toward becoming the Sarah Palin of 2041. Watch out for this girl. I am telling you. She has hidden rage.

Next! Melinda Ademi’s parents traveled all the way from Kosovo to bum everybody out with their former–Eastern Bloc sadness. Melinda sings very nicely and makes it through. I think I like her the most so far.

More montaging, and I remember that the main thing I find that makes Idol hard to watch this early in the season is the judges. These audition episodes are a whole lot of three people who aren’t funny joking around. And Tyler is getting even more inappropriate. Was it impossible to find a personality type in between him and Ellen? How hard did they try? What if they’d just hired a barber who’s nice? Barbers can identify if someone can sing well, too.

The show keeps happening. I cannot remember a time that I wasn’t watching this episode of American Idol. Devyn Rush works as a waitress at New York’s Stardust diner, where all the servers sing while you try to eat your food. I found this out the hard way, by trying to eat there once. I sat down in a booth right as a “number” started, and I bolted out of there like the place was on fire and the fire was singing “You’re the One That I Want.” She gets in.

Mini-montage! A guy who looks real Lord of the Rings–y genuinely makes me laugh when the judges yell at him to stop singing and he slows his voice down like someone’s pulled the plug out on him.

Oh, and very quickly: I hate those Bing ads. Bing, stop pretending that it’s a hassle to use Google. It’s not.

In the home stretch now. Brielle Von Hugel gets in because her dad beat cancer.

A good male singer shows up. Travis Herlando’s story of living in the Bronx is accompanied by sad B-roll of open fire hydrants and hanging pay-phone receivers. He sings a peppy rendition of a Jason Mraz song and a Jason Mraz–y version of “Eleanor Rigby.” He’s in. I bet that hanging pay phone helped, though. Oh, I wish you’d seen it. It was just hanging there.

The show ends with the judges congratulating themselves on being able to discern who can and cannot sing. They actually seem genuinely proud of themselves.

There you go. No one exciting or especially interesting, really, and not a whole lot of dudes. What is the opposite of a sausage party? Why would I ever ask that? I must remember not to read the comments. I should edit this whole section out, but … five dollars a word.

Okay. Thanks for reading, everyone. It’s been a while since I opined on anything like this, and I feel I’m shaking the rust off. Stay with me. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

I'll be back next Friday to recap next week's shows. But while I’m up now, let me go ahead and write a recap for tomorrow night's episode two: MORE OF THE SAME. THE END.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX