Sunday, January 30, 2011

'American Idol 10' - The buzz over Chris Medina

Chris Medina shows the 'Idol' judges Juliana's engagement ring

We're two weeks into American Idol 10, and already, this season is generating more of a buzz than Season 9 did in its entirety. The tragic tale of Chris Medina and his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, continues to trend and fans seem to be split into two camps. In one camp are those who feel the producers exploited Juliana for maximum ratings benefit. On the flip side are those who have latched onto this story as an example of true love in its purest form.

I've been following Janet Spencer Barnes' (Juliana's mother) blog on the For Juliana Facebook page for a week or so. Janet has been documenting Juli's progress since the accident and the story is compelling. Juli was a beautiful young woman, full of life and spirit, and the accident broke her both physically and emotionally.

The mother's struggles are heartbreaking, and for every step forward, there seem to be two steps back. Janet struggles with her daughter on a daily basis, trying to get her to keep moving in order that she might realize the maximum potential of the therapies she is enduring. Some days are better than others and their biggest fight right now seems to be Juli's depression. It appears the only person in her life who is able lift her spirits is Chris.

But with Chris' golden ticket comes what will certainly be at least six months away from home. As one of her primary caregivers, Chris' absence as part of her daily routine could be very damaging to her recovery process, upsetting the very delicate balance that has prevailed. One wonders whether or not he thought all this out before signing on for this journey.

Sure, appearing on Idol could be financially beneficial, but any long term monetary gain could be offset by how it affects Juli's recovery. We don't really know how much she understands about all of this. If she is fully aware of the ramifications and has given Chris her blessing, then so be it. Still, I don't think anyone can be prepared for all the publicity that comes with being part of the Idol circus no matter what their physical or mental condition.

A lot of people found Chris' audition and the footage of Juliana meeting the judges to be upsetting. Some blame Chris, while others blame the producers. Certainly, the show's producers recognize a compelling story when they see it and never fail to jump all over it. But Chris and Juli's family had to have had some say in all of this. Did Juli understand the significance of all of this at the time? Did she consent to being filmed? We really don't know.

What I do know is that as a result of this segment, Chris Medina has guaranteed himself a spot in the Top 12. No one since Clay Aiken has developed this level of mania this early in the competition. Fans have flocked to the FB page in droves, pouring out their messages of love and support and Juli's Laurus Foundation fund that was set up months ago has tripled since the segment aired. If nothing else, the family will benefit from this outpouring of love; in fact, Juli's mother has written that some of this money will be used to make their home more accessible.

Through all of this, there is little discussion of Chris' actual singing ability. His audition was okay, and he probably would have advanced to Hollywood without the sob story. But in a season where the producers seem determined to force feed viewers a plethora of 15-year-olds, I don't think Chris would have stood out enough to counterbalance that pressure. At this point, however, it's a moot point. The producers have to be aware of Chris' massive fan base and would be insane not to put him through to the first voting round. And, once there, Chris will have no problem moving into the Top 12.

Can he win? It's certainly possible. If, as I suspect, his fanbase is comprised of the same demographic (i.e. middle aged women) that fell hard for the likes of Clay Aiken, Danny Gokey, etc., there's not a whole lot that can stop him other than a string of disastrous performances. But don't rule out the tweens to whom this season appears to be dedicated. We'll see which of the 15-year-olds takes the lead once all is said and done.

I'm sympathetic to Juliana's plight and respect Chris' devotion to her through it all. But using one's personal tragedy to secure a spot on a TV talent show doesn't set well with me. I have a lot more respect for those who refuse to use their back stories as a tool to advance. For example, David Cook would not talk about his brother's struggle with cancer and Scott McIntyre did not reveal that he'd had a kidney transplant just one year before his audition. Sometimes less is definitely more.

American Idol: The Untold Story

Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Idol' at the Grand Ole Opry

Lauren Alaina appears to be this year's "Chosen One" (VFTW photo)
We're in Nashville tonight, home of some of country music's biggest stars as well as a number of former Idols (Carrie Underwood, Bo Bice, Kellie Pickler, and Chris Sligh to name a few). Will the judges find the next country superstar tonight? Let's find out.

Ryan tells us over 17,000 auditioners turned out to try their luck at the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. Of course we have a little pimpage for Carrie Underwood, 'Idol's' most successful alum.

First up, is Christine McCafferey, a strange blonde who sings her way into the audition rooms. She is awful with her butchering of "I Hope You Dance." Jennifer says no right off the bat, but Randy wants Christine to read his mind. He doesn't think she is serious. She is also delusional, telling Ryan that Steven Tyler said yes (he did not).

Chelsea Oaks and Rob Bolin are exes who still live and sing together. They are even auditioning together. Chelsea tells Jennifer they love each other, but things didn't work out. They sing together and then apart. They are both pretty good and they are both going to Hollywood.

A young woman demonstrates how she touches her nose with her tongue. Tyler loves her.

Al Lewis is a tattoo artist who rocks. He says he is a warrior. He's singing "Simple Man." He is a bit scary! Randy waves his arm in the air as a signal to stop. Jennifer loves Al's laugh. Randy says he feels like Al is "more of a band guy." Al tells Randy rejection makes him work harder. I like Al.

Next up is Miss Teen USA, Stormi Henley. She sings nicely and gets a yes from Tyler, a no from Jennifer, and a "it was just okay" from Randy. He relents, though, and Miss Teen USA is going to Hollywood.

Adrienne Beasley lives on a farm in Kentucky. She was adopted by an old white couple. Pops says, "Wherever God takes her is okay by me." Adrian is country to the core and impresses the judges with her rendition of Lady Antebellum's "American Honey." Steven says he hears something special in her voice. She almost made him cry. Jennifer also felt it and Randy says it felt good in the room. It's a triple yes for Adrian. She calls Mom and Dad to tell them the news. Pops is tickled.

It's Day 2. The judges arrive with huge expectations. Kameela Meeks says people are surprised when they hear her sing. She's singing "Some Sweet Thing." Yup, I'm surprised, all right, and not in a good way. Randy puts his fingers in his ears. Steven tells her she should go back home and practice. Randy says it was horrible. "It hurt," he says.

For the next hour the judges were tormented by a collection of bad singers, including one guy in a Blue Man Group suit. I am grateful they are grouping these people together. People weep.

Jackie Wilson is a nervous wreck. She's 28 and more than ready. She makes the judges clap. Steven says she blew it out and Jackie is going to Hollywood. She gets a smack from the guy I thought was her father, but it's really her boyfriend.

Latoya "Younique" Moore tells us she's a recording artist and that she thinks she is a star. She's wearing a prom dress. She brings her CD into the audition room for the judges to share. She's awful. Steven says she is unique. Randy tells her the tone of her voice is annoying. Her number falls off and her dreams are shattered. She sings her way out of the room in a vain attempt to change their minds. It's still a no. She's still singing as she meets Ryan.

Paul McDonald sings "Maggie May" and gets a yes. Jimmie Allen has a nice vibe and is also going through. Danny Pate engages the judges in a sing-along. He gets a cheerleader yes from Jenny. Jimmie Allen looks just like Jerome Bell from last night.

Night has fallen and we meet Matt Dillard, a 27-year-old country bumpkin. His family takes in special needs children. They've had 700 foster children. Matt is wearing overalls, a wife beater, and old cowboy hat. His singing isn't all that great. He sucks up to the judges. Randy gives him a small yes and hopes he doesn't get swallowed up. Jennifer says no, but Steven gives him a pass. This guy won't last one round in Hollywood.

Lauren Alaina (nee Sudduth) is a 15-year-old who would appear to be the pimped one Nigel has been gushing about for months (the next Kelly Clarkson?). She always idolized her cousin Holly who was very beautiful, but ended up with a brain tumor. Lauren, who says Holly inspired her to sing, held a fundraiser for Holly. Of course they bring Holly in for maximum sob story effect. Doesn't come close to last night's sob story, though.

As for Lauren, who sings “Like we Never Loved at All," she has a seasoned country voice and a great deal of maturity for someone who is OMG only 15 (how many times are we going to hear that this season). Randy is blown away. Jennifer is going to cry. Steven says Lauren will make 40 million people cry tears of joy. Randy says, "If you got it, you got it." Lauren goes out to introduce her family to the judges. She encores with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” for Steven.

In closing, Steven says "We found the one today." And if the judges have anything to do with selecting the Top 12, Lauren will be in it. The official "Chosen One" of Season 10 has been crowned.

Next week we move on to Dallas. And now, we get a breather!

Thanks for reading my blog and feel free to leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chris Medina's 'Idol' audition

In case you missed it...

'American Idol 10' - Working it out in Milwaukee

Chris Medina's back story makes Steven Tyler cry
For the first time, the 'American Idol' auditions take place in Milwaukee, home to Danny Gokey, who is, of course on hand to cheer on the masses. No surprise there.

I'm inspired to live blog it tonight, so let's get it on. 

First up, Scott McCreery, a throw-back country singer with a deep bass voice who inspires an interesting poetic outburst from judge Steven Tyler. Scott's going through, no problem. Jennifer thinks he'll be "legendary." We'll see about that.

Joe Rupka is a happy-go-lucky young man with aspirations to be a radio announcer. Ryan gives him a little training and Joe is off to the races. He gets in front of the judges and does his best radio announcer voice. Joe hopes he's the next American Idol, but when he launches into Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time," it's clear he should stick to radio. Tyler tells him, "Do not quit your day job." Jennifer thinks Joe should pursue radio as does Randy. Joe tries another song to no avail. See ya.

Randy has become almost superfluous.

Emma Henry, 15, and her entire family drove 15 hours to the audition. She's been watching since Season 1 and has wanted her own "moment like this." Tyler is ridiculous with her. She sings "True Colors." She has a nice tone and intonation, but is a bit hoarse. Tyler says she has a lot of character and Jennifer says there's something there for her to build on, a special quality in her voice. Randy doesn't think she's ready and Jennifer agrees. Steven likes her and says yes. Emma begs Randy. Awwww... say yes Randy. Please. Emma is crying. Randy says he thinks she'd get swallowed up in the whole thing. Outside the audition room, Mom is crying. She tells us Emma is sick. "Dawg's gonna turn into a pussy cat," says Steven to Randy. Emma says she'll work so hard. Emma makes the cut.

We get a mishmosh of horrible auditions. Thank you for not subjecting us to this for the entire show. We know, though, that all this nonsense will be followed by someone "good," right. One guy wants a sip of Randy's Coke. Another shot of Danny.

Milwaukee is the home of Summerfest, and our next auditioner, Naima Adedapo,  works for the festival in maintenance. She's got a unique look. Kind of Lauryn Hillish. She weeps through her pre-audition clip - wants to do this for her babies (yada, yada). She's singing "For All we Know." Tyler is nodding. Jennifer says she likes her voice and package. Randy and Steven both like her, so she's on to Hollywood. I love her multi-colored dress. Naima is unique and will stand out in Hollywood.

Note: What you don't know is that Naima was one of the 38 nationwide finalists on MTV’s P. Diddy’s reality T.V. show 'Making the Band,' and is a seasoned musical theater performer. A little more than a maintenance person I would say.

We start off after the break with a scene of a young man doing backflips. He smashes into a camera man on the floor. Heh! One woman sings "Jenny from the Block" and a weirdo comes on with a giant toothbrush.

Wedding singer Jerome Bell from New York steps up to the plate. Jerome has a great smile and belts out "Let's Get it On." A bit too much, but he has a decent voice. And again, that smile. "Hot, crazy vocals," says Randy who likes him. Steven is impressed and Jerome is through to Hollywood. His mom screams. Jennifer says, "Remember that name." Dude should tone it down a bit.

Little clip of Justin Bieber. Yup, this is why we lowered the age to 15 this year. So, here's a 5-year old! Right. Ryan tells us the 15-year olds have really delivered, setting us up for an audition from one, I would say.

Thia Magia is a pretty little 15-year old from California who auditions with "Chasing Pavements." Nice vocals. Jennifer says she loves Thia. Steven loves her voice and says it has "muster and heat." Thia is in.  Another slew of 15-year olds, all of whom are going to Hollywood. I have issues with this, but no one asked me.

Nathanial Jones is a Civil War renenactor. He comes to the audition dressed in his war outfit. Nathanial is emphatic that his dad, who sports a long ZZ Top beard, is not a hippie. Nathanial sings "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in a falsetto that makes my dog's ears stand up. Randy can't contain himself. Nathanial looks like a guy I used to work with. It's a no.

The next guy needs to face the wall before the yowling begins.

The next serous contestant, Molly DeWolf-Swenson, recently graduated from Harvard and is an intern in the White House. She says she is in love with the President, but not in a Lewinsky kind of way. Funny. Hey, Molly, you've got some real good stuff going on in your life right now, why the hell are you trying out for 'Idol?'  Anyway, Molly tells Randy that when he was running down the line high-fiving everyone in the morning, he punched her in the face! Oh yeah. Molly has an interesting voice and good range. Tyler says, "You got attitude, you know where to put it." He thinks she's terrific. Molly is in, but has no family to celebrate with her. :(

The first day is over, the 15-year olds are headed to Hollywood, and thankfully, Danny Gokey has gone home. We get a preview of upcoming auditions, including what certainly will be the biggest tearjerker of the night, if not the entire season.

It's a new day and Jennifer is dolled up in a little '50s outfit. First up, Haley Reinhart, who auditioned last year in Chicago, but didn't make the cut. She does much better this year and is going to Hollywood.

Tiwan Strong has a rather retro vibe and weird teeth ("Twisting the Night Away"). Tiwan gets a golden ticket.  He looks about 40! Mama busts a move and another hanger-on-er has some kind of leg cramp on camera. Now that was unscripted.

Back from the break with the requisite cheesehead hats. Our next auditioner, Steve Bighun, is an accountant who moonlights as a wedding singer. He looks too old.  Surprise, surprise, Steve can really sing. Tyler's got his eyes closed. He says he heard an echo that resonated in the room. Really? "I found you to be disturbingly great," Tyler says. Steve Bighun is going to Hollywood. "Wow," says Steve Bighun. I love his name.

Vernika Paterson sings "Loving You," the Minnie Ripperton tune. She starts and stops. She's completely flat. But will she belt out that high note. Nope. Jennifer puts her hand up to stop the torture. Steven doesn't think she's ready for 'Idol.' Vernika argues. "Half the people can't sing as well as I can," Vernika says. She wonders if it's because she's not skinny. No, Vernika, it's because you sing like a cat in hear. Vernika stomps out of the room. She said no to herself! "She took that really well," Randy quips.

Now for a montage of folks who didn't make the cut and who don't want the camera on them. "Get that camera off my face," seems to be the common theme.

Albert Rogers, III, 24 (looks 44 - what's up with all these old-looking people), says people think his singing sounds like Ruben Studdard, Luther Vandross, and Usher. He's singing "Stand by Me." He ain't no Luther, let's put it that way. Steven leans on Jennifer and swoons. Randy puts an end to the torture. Steven isn't sure it's 'American Idol,' but good. Randy thinks it's a joke. It's a no for Albert.

Steven Tyler wonders if Scott Dangerfield is wearing lipstick. He tells the judges he kissed a girl in the holding room. He's singing "Dreamin'" by Amos Lee. Weird. He's a skinny white dude with long hair and glasses, but has a cool soul vibe. He reminds me a little bit of Clay Aiken. Jennifer says Scott might be her favorite of the day. Scott's going to Hollywood. 

Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers commercial. She looks amazing.

Lots of love for the Packers. And now we meet "the most colorful fan" ever. Megan Frasier is a huge Packer fan and runs around the holding room screaming. Amazing no one slapped her! She's infused Justin Bieber's "Baby" with a touch of opera. She's awful.

Steven likes the next girl, Alyson Jaydos, who says she loves him. They hug. Aly says she loves rock and roll and is singing "Come Together."  She's not that good. Randy wants her to sing an Aerosmith song - "Dream On." She's better on this one. Steven yowls. It's all good. Will Aly go to Hollywood? Doesn't look good. Steven says she's very pitchy. Aly knows she can do it. Jennifer thinks she has a great quality in her voice and a good performance quality. Randy says no, but Jennifer wants to put her through. It's up to Steven. Ouch. He says yes.

Ryan tells us 53 went through to Hollywood. One more contestant, though. One more.

Quick recap of some of the good auditions in case you've forgotten. The last audition of the day is Chris Medina from Chicago. He tells the judges his story. He and Juliana Ramos have been together for eight years. He proposed to her at work in Starbucks. But on Oct. 2, 2009, she was in a serious accident and suffered severe brain damage. Juliana was in a coma for a month and a half. Now, their wedding plans are on hold. He and her mother are her caretakers. "What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needs me the most," Chris asks. What kind of guy indeed?

Chris sings "Break Even" by the Script. Dude can sing. Needs a haircut and some new duds, though. Jennifer wants Chris to bring Juliana in. Not sure if Juli understands all that's going on, and quite honestly, it's really uncomfortable watching this. The judges all get up to greet Juliana and Steven gets all teary-eyed. He tells Juliana that Chris sings so well because he sings to her. A tear forms in my eye.

Chris is going to Hollywood. And I'm predicting right here and now that Chris Medina will be in the Top 12 or 13 or whatever they have this year. Thing is, he could have gotten through on his own merit and not exploited his poor fiance. I'm not saying this is entirely his doing, however. The show's producers certainly had a hand in all of this, knowing full well the reaction this segment would produce. Brilliant, but still...

Thursday 'Idol' moves on to Nashville.

'American Idol 10' - Milwaukee auditions air tonight

We're into week two of 'American Idol's' tenth season, and tonight, the auditions move to Milwaukee, home of Season 8 runner-up Danny Gokey. Now, as you may recall, Danny's back story was particularly compelling in that his wife had died only a few weeks before his initial audition. The producers jumped all over his story and milked it for all the sympathy it was worth. True, it was a tragic event, but is it right for a contestant on this show to use a personal tragedy in order to further his or her advancement on the show? Or does the contestant even have a say as to how his back story is used? Would Danny Gokey have gotten as far as he did without his tragic story?

One wonders, especially considering that tonight, another contestant will share his tragic story with the 'Idol' audience. Two years ago Chris Medina, a 27-year old from the Chicago area, proposed to his girlfriend Juliana Ramos. But in October 2009, Juliana was in a terrible car accident on her way home from work and suffered severe brain damage and multiple fractures to her face. She was in a coma and not expected to live.

Juliana did live, but it's been a long road back and she's still receiving treatment. Chris has stuck by her side and when he auditioned for 'Idol,' Juliana came along. According to TMZ, judge Steven Tyler was moved to tears by Chris and Juliana's story and Chris advances to Hollywood. Spoiler sites have Chris in the Top 40, and I have no doubt this is a fact. 'Idol' loves it's tragic back stories and this one sure has all the elements.

Even before the audition airs, the fund that has been set up to help Juliana's family defray her medical expenses is getting a boost. Imagine what will happen once rabid 'Idol' fans get wind of this story!  And, that's a good thing.

Should 'Idol' exploit peoples' tragedies for ratings? Should a contestant try to keep his private life private or use his life experiences in order to gain fan support? Would Chris Medina have made it anyway? Here's a clip of his audition. What do you think?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

'American Idol 10' - Second impressions of the new season

Brett Loewenstern singing "Bohemian Rhapsody"
After Wednesday's 'American Idol' season premiere, I was almost giddy with anticipation over the follow-up on Thursday. I hadn't expected to care much one way or the other, but I was so entertained by Steven Tyler, I was beginning to think this season may not be a total wash after all.

Thursday's episode wasn't quite as compelling, and yet, there were elements that really pleased me and left me understanding why it is I watch this show to begin with - elements that have been missing for the past several season.

What I liked about Thursday's show, which featured the New Orleans auditions, was that, for the most part, the focus was on talent. We didn't have to suffer through endless shrieking and wailing - nope, the bad auditions were blocked together and fast-forwarded just for a bit of flavor. Instead, we got to see some solid auditions from people who may really have a shot.

It's been a long time since I've watched 'Idol' "alone" - that is, without being online with any chat group or forum. When I first started watching 'Idol' in Season 1, there weren't any fan sites or 'Idol' blogs. I don't think there was even a message board until Season 2. We watched the show, picked out our favorites and then watched to see how they did in Hollywood.

This week, I stepped away from the computer and watched both episodes from start to finish. I'm glad I did. The show felt "new" to me and I once again began relating to some of the contestants and feeling them.

Thursday, we were introduced to Brett Loewenstern, 16, of Boca Raton, Fla. Brett is different, and while he now embraces his differences, he had a hard time getting to this place. Brett auditioned with "Bohemian Rhapsody," and as trite as this phrase has become, he made it his own. Brett has confidence in his vocals and a rich tone that belies his slender frame and rather insecure carriage. I would not be at all surprised to see him in the Top 12.

Other auditions of note included Paris Tassin (single mother of special needs child), Jaycee Badeaux (15, looks 12), Jovany Barreto (shipbuilder and major hottie), and Jordan Dorsey (musician and music teacher who auditioned with "Over the Rainbow").

I've been told on good authority that this season's Top 40 may be the best ever. That's enough reason to keep me watching!

'Idol' premiere attracts 26.2 million viewers

There's good news and bad news for 'American Idol.' Wednesday's season premiere attracted 26.2 million viewers and snagged the top spot for the evening. But this total represents a 12 percent drop from last year's premiere, which drew nearly 30 million viewers. And, the total represents an 18 percent drop in the show's target demographic, ages 18 to 49, which fell to 12.8 million viewers.

Still, 26.2 million is the show's highest total of viewers since Feb. 9, 2009 and reflects an increase of over 2 million viewers who caught the Season 9 finale last May.

Will the antics of Steven Tyler be enough to engage viewers for the rest of the season? It would appear the producers are hot to showcase young talent this year, which could increase the size of the tween audience. But will they "get" Tyler? Who knows. We'll be watching these numbers going forward, however. It will be interesting to see how 'Idol' competes with strong Thursday night network lineups.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

'American Idol 10' - Did you eat too many paint chips as a child?

Travis Orlando
I really wasn't going to watch, at least not during air time, but the old 'Idol' lure was just too strong and I couldn't resist. And, despite all my misgivings, I have to say the best part of the show was Steven Tyler.

His comments are wildly amusing and yet he can be serious when it's appropriate. My favorite of the evening had to be the comment he made to Michael Perroto ("Did you eat too many paint chips as a child?") after the 19-year old clobbered "Proud Mary" to death.

Tyler leers at the pretty young girls, cusses (the censor's bleeper had to be working overtime), and drums along with the singers. Clearly, he's enjoying the hell out of this!

As long as the producers don't try to hard to filter Tyler's comments or script him, and just let him be himself, I think this is going to work! He may be "one and done," but this season just got a whole lot more interesting.

The award for best sob story of the evening, maybe even the season, goes to Travis Orlando whose family ended up living in a shelter in the Bronx for a few years after losing their home during the recession. Travis did a respectable job on Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" and could be one to watch.

Robbie Rosen, who spent part of his childhood in a wheelchair with some kind of hip ailment, but who is now totally cured, was the best audition of the night, but my favorite was Yoji “Pop” Asani who speaks almost no English and can't really sing. But his dance moves (he's studied Michael Jackson for years) were outstanding and his singing "Party in the USA" in broken English one of those memorable 'Idol' moments! Really?

Wednesday at 8 p.m. we move to New Orleans. Thankfully, it's only an hour. 'Idol' is back, and it appears, so am I!

'American Idol 10' starts tonight

Steven Tyler joins the 'Idol' judging panel
The tenth season of 'American Idol' kicks off at 8 p.m. tonight, so I suppose it's time to dust off this blog and begin pontificating about all things 'Idol.' Problem is, I am having trouble mustering up a whole lot of enthusiasm about the upcoming season. Sad, but true.

If you've been following me at all, you know that I've been watching 'Idol' since the middle of Season 1 and am pretty sure I've never missed an episode. I started writing about the show during Season 2 and have contributed to a number of different sites over the years. I've written five books about the show, been interviewed by various media outlets, and appeared on a Syracuse radio station during Season 3 as an 'Idol' commentator. I've met dozens of contestants and count a few as friends. In short, I've invested a lot of time and energy into this show over the past nine seasons.

So why am I so blase about this season? Maybe it's because Season 9 was such a huge flop. The performance shows lacked energy, the outcome was totally unsatisfying (Lee DeWyze? Really?), and the tour was such a fiasco they chopped nearly three weeks off it, canceling dates. They didn't even stop in Syracuse this year. Ultimately, the winner wasn't even able to sell 40K copies of his debut in the first week. Boring.

Don't expect the same old show this time around. Simon, Ellen, and Kara are gone, and in their place, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (why?) and singer/dancer/actress/mother of twins, Jennifer Lopez. Simon they ain't. I'm not as worried about Lopez - I think she'll be a cross between Paula's ditziness and Kara's industry knowledge. Tyler is a different story. I'm expecting a lot of "Dudes" and nonsensical remarks. I have a hard time believing Steven Tyler is going to be able to relate to some scrawny 15-year-old boy.

Which leads to the next change. The age has been lowered to 15 this year, possibly in an attempt to discover another Justin Bieber-esque phenomenon. Yawn. Young teens normally don't do so well on this show (Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta being the exceptions). Remember Kevin Covais? John Stevens? Case made. Kids aren't ready for this level of competition. In addition, they have to attend school along with all their other 'Idol' duties. I just don't see the point.

What else? Nigel Lythgoe has returned and promise less artistry (e.g. people "hiding" behind guitars) and more diversity and variety. The show's music director,  Rickey Minor, left the show at the end of last season and according to what I've read, the new band, led by Ray Chew, won't be on the stage, but rather, hidden behind a screen or something. Not sure how that will play out.

Jimmy Iovine, chairman of the Interscope Geffen A&M Records group, will be the in-house mentor, which means no weekly celebrity mentor for the first time in several seasons. 

The finalists will be chosen in one semifinal performance show, whittling down from 20 to 12, or perhaps 14, or maybe 10. No one is entirely sure how that's going to work. I'll miss the semifinal performance shows. This also means more audition shows and more Hollywood.

And then there's the move to Wednesday/Thursday from the customary Tuesday/Wednesday spot. 'Idol' has always been Tuesday/Wednesday and I can't fathom why they moved it. I think they'll lose a lot of viewers Thursday with competition from strong network lineups. Tuesday was sort of a boring night and 'Idol' spiked it up a bit.

It all starts tonight with a two-hour audition show (8 p.m. on Fox). I'll watch, but don't expect much in the line of commentary!