Analysis: Does the new era of ‘Idol’ live up to the hype?

Alyssa Moody Contributor
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Season 10 of the singing competition phenomenon, “American Idol,” kicked off Wednesday night on Fox.

Host Ryan Seacrest started the show by telling the audience that “everything feels brand new.” With two new judges, the switch to a Thursday night results show, and different “theme weeks” for the top 13, the show is set to shake things up. But last night’s two-hour premiere resembled the same old “Idol.”

The New Jersey auditions brought the same cast of characters “Idol” has attracted for almost a decade. There were plenty of weirdos, wannabes, sob stories and standouts.  In between the tone-deaf and the strange, a few talented contestants emerged. The most memorable, and a favorite of the judges, was 16-year old Travis Orlando. Travis was homeless for most of his life and was surrounded by drugs and gangs, but is determined to become a star.  His talent backed up his ambition when he delivered a beautiful interpretation of a Beatles classic. In addition to Travis, the judges sent 50 contestants to Hollywood Week.

Music icons Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are the show’s fresh faces, but their judging style is all too familiar. Tyler was the most critical and direct of the three. His critiques were blunt, but not as mean-spirited as his predecessor, Simon Cowell. Lopez was reminiscent of former judge Paula Abdul, with her sweet, gentle demeanor and emotional bond with the contestants. The first time JLO had to say ‘no’ to an aspiring singer, she dramatically threw up her arms and said, “This is awful. I can’t do this.” The veteran judge, Randy Jackson, was the same cool, calm “dog” he’s always been. The “new era” of “Idol” is a little old.

“We’re not in the business of crushing spirits,” said Lopez. She’s right. They didn’t crush any spirits, but they didn’t light any fires either. The professional, kind attitude of the judging panel is “new” in the sense that it lacks one thing; the distinctive voice of Simon Cowell. “Simon is irreplaceable,” said Jackson. The judges lacked Cowell’s sharp wit, charisma, and harsh but productive critiques. Whether you loved or loathed him, he was an essential figure in the “Idol” journey, and his infamous style is notably absent.

Will this season have a standout like Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert? Will the judges generate the same love/hate buzz of their predecessors? Stay tuned.