I’m unabashedly, a full on pop culture junkie. I don’t make plans on Thursday nights so I can watch all the Guido goodness that is The Jersey Shore. I pray to the Bravo TV Gods. And I’ve been following the saga of Conan O’Brien and The Tonight Show with way more interest and intensity than other major news like say, the crashing economy and trouble in the Middle East. But, full disclosure? I’ve never been gaga for American Idol like my fellow pop culture brothers and sisters. It’s just one of those shows that I want to like and have tried to like but it just never stuck. I’ve had my moments -- I was riveted by Fantasia’s sultry voice and horrified when Chris Daughtry went home. But, somewhere between Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert -- I just couldn’t take the wannabe “idols” seriously anymore. As mainstream as my TV and movie viewing habits are -- my music tastes have always skewed a tad more sophisticated. And so, I chalked up American Idol as a glorified karaoke competition and decided to let the rest of the world watch and vote while I blasted the Beatles and Led Zeppelin on my iPod.
But, I decided to give Idol another try last night. The timing just seemed right. With Paula Abdul gone, Ellen Degeneres on her way in and Simon Cowell almost out -- I was curious. And to be honest, the two hours of the season premiere weren’t that bad. The first round of auditions was held in Boston with Spice Girl Victoria Beckham sitting in as a guest judge. The expected crop of God awful singers that are shocked they’re not advancing to the next round showed up (one girl claimed to be an American Idol video game champ and therefore couldn’t understand why the judges weren’t into her in real life) and there were some truly talented singers that you just have to root for because of their tragic back stories (most notably, Maddy Curtis who has three brothers with Down’s Syndrome -- all of whom inspired her to audition).
Now, it was just night one of the audition rounds so it’s hard to predict if we saw the next American Idol. And, I tip my hat to the producers for toning down the number of laughable wannabes that aired (come to think of it, William Hung may have been the beginning of the end for me). There were more talented singers featured than I ever remember seeing this early on. But, I’m concerned for the future of the show sans Paula Abdul. Yes, she was quirky and out of it and sometimes a tad too nice. And sure, she fought with Simon and was oversensitive and claimed that he hurt her feelings with his biting remarks. But, it’s really not the same show without her. Kara really tries hard to fill Paula’s shoes. I give her a lot of credit because she’s absolutely in Paula’s shadow and tries hard to find her own niche. But, she isn’t an original member of the band and it shows. Kara’s sweet personality isn’t all that memorable. She has very few sparks with Randy and Simon and the contestants aren’t as in awe of her when they walk in as they were of Paula. One contestant, albeit a horrible singer, even called her “Paula” repeatedly. I can’t tell a lie—it made me chuckle and wonder if Paula was secretly watching and smiling to herself.
But, my hopes are high for when Ellen takes her place alongside the judges in Hollywood. She’ll give Simon a run for his money -- and, by the way, I always agree with what Simon has to say. For example -- Jennifer Hudson wasn’t the cream of the crop during her season. He was on the money with his critiques but no one said that Simon has a crystal ball into the future. But at least when there is a difference of opinion between the judges, Ellen will stand up to Simon with humor, integrity and antagonize him just enough to get him to smile. Till then, I’ll suffer through the rest of the audition rounds (good guest judges are upon us such as Neil Patrick Harris and Mary J. Blige) and hold my breath that Ellen’s arrival will do two very important things -- make us (well, me particularly) say, “Paula, who?” and keep me tuning in each week until the finale!