The two hour premier of American Idol's season #8 did not disappoint. It did not amaze or thrill either, but that's OK. We're living in perilous times, and tonight the old familiar tease of freak show mixed with real talent felt just about right.
Let's begin with the judges, as that's the only stark change going into this new season. After 7 years with the same cast, AI introduced a fourth judge by adding Kara Dioguari, a successful song writer who almost no one on the planet has ever heard of. This is really risky business. I've mentioned in past AI posts that the judges in this series are characters, and each one plays a role. Paula is the sweet comic relief, Simon is the terrifying voice of reason and Randy is "everyman"; the guy sitting at home who is in stitches when they're bad and enthralled when the hapless contestants hit one out of the park. After tonight's episode, I have no idea if Kara will carve a niche for herself. She had one moment where it seemed like she might bring a layer of snarky dark laughs to the show when she questioned whether the tattoo "Sexual Chocolate" was spelled right on a contestant's back. But if her destiny is to be AI's "mean girl", I think it will throw this delicate dance of Hollywood dreams and dark reality off balance. Simon has plenty of mean, there's no room for more nasty. They've already got dumb, smart, funny, every-dude and scary. Kara should just sit there quietly and field text messages on her Blackberry. Perhaps that will turn on the Internet generation the producers surely hoped to attract by her addition.
The contestants tonight did not have the "wow" factor of past early episodes. There were some nice voices, some interesting voices. They brought the freak factor down several notches in this opener; no chicken suits or mentally disabled, although the low voiced black guy was on the fringe of bizarre. The tongue pierced lady who sang the Heart song and the thin eyed girl who sang "Dock on the Bay" were both really talented; I'll be watching for them in Hollywood. The blind guy at the end was good and very nice looking, but he didn't raise goosebumps with his vocal abilities. I'll be eager to see how he performs when he is playing the piano, which is probably his comfort zone.
One of the best bits of the night was the montage of contestants along with the entire Phoenix stadium of hopefuls singing "Dead or Alive". Very nice editing. The crowd actually sounded pretty good; better than most of the individual contestants.
And so it begins. In the words of the late great James Brown, "I Feel Good". I thought perhaps the new downsized, crappy economy might make AI seem too frivolous this season. But I guess we need dreams more than ever now. It's nice to have you back American Idol. Here's Scott the young blind guy singing a Billy Joel song. He's going to Hollywood!