By Jim Hagerty
It’s American Idol season again, and the social media are buzzing with predictions of who, even after only a few audition shows, will emerge alongside Carrie Underwood, David Cook, Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks as the nation’s newest pop sensation.
Back for a 10th campaign, American Idol is in its first without creator, brash A&R mogul Simon Cowell. Even without Cowell’s off-the-cuff, and often cold remarks, Idol has again climbed to the top of the ratings and is America’s No. 1 show.
As some fans either love or hate the Fox hit, it proves to be one of the most culture-shaping elements of a decades-old glitz brigade. Cowell is no longer a judge, Paula Abdul has moved on, and Ellen DeGeneres is a mere blip. Randy Jackson, so far, hasn’t picked up where Cowell left off in the brutally honest department, but 2011’s season is still young.
Proving American Idol is more than a singing contest are the front-and-center choices of new judges, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.
Lopez has long been known to live somewhere between song and screen. With vocal ranges no better than the average karaoke champion, Lopez can dance, sport backless dresses like nobody’s business and gets the job done as a pop star, even though she’s just Jenny from the Block. Lopez on American Idol makes sense, given the direction the show is obviously going in its 10th go-around.
Tyler’s inclusion makes for a dichotomy worth mentioning. The rock star on the panel, Tyler picks up where Abdul left off, often playing good cop to Jackson’s still-green attempt at being the bulldog. Tyler’s series of puns and gaffes that have made him an industry icon make the show worth watching just to see how he’s rarely off. The only thing better would be to see Joe Perry on an episode of Glee.
The first week of auditions played right into America’s hands, as the Idol train made stops in East Rutherford, N.J., New Orleans and Milwaukee. While the proof will become evident in the Hollywood pudding, auditions were conducted slightly different as a rash of 15-year-olds were given tickets for the next round.
The show has lowered its age requirement to 15, sparked mostly by the Justin Bieber craze, which has proved to be a suitable cash-cow bedfellow. Throw in a few touching back stories, a 17-year-old unable to control her faculties in the presence of Tyler, and a controversial and forced performance by two ex-lovers and you’ve got, well—American Idol.
Meantime, Twitter feeds ticked like stopwatches, and morning-after Facebook blitzes were hotter than those triggered by armchair quarterbacks trying to relive something that never will be. Scores of audition photos have circulated since Jan. 19, dozens of Facebook pages established, and more than 1 million viewers hit on Chris Medina’s heartwarming video montage of his audition.
The somewhat disturbing tale centers on Medina’s dream to appear on the show for his wheelchair-ridden fiancée, who barely survived a tragic accident months before they were to be married. While the social media and American Idol seem to be the perfect marriage, there is a singing contest in there somewhere. “Unchained Melody” is what happened to Justin Guarini, and Fantasia will tell you straight-up Life Is Not a Fairy Tale.