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Idol Watch: New Jersey State of Mind

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Last night, a revamped, recast American Idol returned with its first audition round, and this radical relaunch of the show turned out to give us—an audition round, pretty much like all the other auditions rounds you’ve ever watched, but minus Simon. Which was to be expected: the audition rounds are what they are, and have been a consistently popular part of the Idol season, so the real changes won’t become apparent until we move into the competition. But a few miscellaneous thoughts after the break:

* As I wrote yesterday, we can only judge the judges so much by this stage of the show, since they may come off very differently in the live, unedited episodes. But the editing did seem to have two goals. First, to tell us, again and again, that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are really big stars whom everyone loves, and to start creating a narrative for the new judging panel. Randy, the episode told us, is still Randy, but a bit more subdued and elder-statesmanly. J-Lo is the “nice” judge, at least insofar as she apparently never wants to be the deciding “no” vote. And Steven is the wild card, sometimes blunt, sometimes reserved and diplomatic and sometimes bleepable (“f— a duck and see what happens”).

* Oh, and also? Sometimes creepy. I know, rock star and all that, but stop ogling the teenage girls, Grandpa. It ain’t 1977 anymore!

* Speaking of advancing age, the transparent efforts by Idol to try to glom onto the youth appeal of Jersey Shore just made me a little sad.

* Though I still don’t think we can assess the judges by these episodes, it did strike me that—even though the audition rounds are an old reliable—the very idea of parading in a bunch of awful singers seems like a Simon-tailored concept. I kept feeling him like a phantom limb, waiting for his withering comments that never came. That said, it may be best that Idol is not trying to clone him; at least with Tyler and Lopez, they’re going in a distinct, different direction, for better or worse. But it did all feel a bit subdued last night.

* Only on American Idol can you get an auditioner (above), weeping over his overwhelming it is to meet her idol J-Lo, unveiling a pair of glittering stars on her boobs, then covering them up with her jacket for her second performance because “it’s more emotional.” See, that’s how you know a song is classy.

Impressions? Early favorites? Snap judgments? Is anyone ready to take Kara back?

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