American Idol: Boston Plea Party

American Idol judges courtesy Fox
CHANGE CAN BE SCARY. And this season, “American Idol” has endured the most turmoil it’s seen since Kelly Clarkson first strode across its stage.

Our dear, sweet, permanently woozy Paula Abdul decided to M.C. Skat Kat rather than return for the show’s ninth season. She’s now sitting at her kitchen table, sipping from a mug filled with an undetermined beverage, critiquing the dustbunnies under her couch. (“You on the left have skills and I love how the light hits, uh, gleams brightly from your silver soul. But you on the, uh, agh, right are — you’re specialest. You win.” *claps* “Yaaaaaaay you!”)

So, the producers sought out a replacement. And in comedian, talk show host, and noted “Idol” junkie Ellen DeGeneres, they found their Nemo.

Ellen is expected to join the show during Hollywood Week. Till then, we’ll have the pleasure of enjoying guest judges ranging from Joe Jonas to Mary J. Blige to Katy Perry. Which should be something.

In full-disclosure fashion, the Paula Predicament was the main topic of the first minutes of Tuesday’s “Idol” premiere, during which the producers gave Ms. Abdul a classy send-off (although an assertion by host and voice-over king Ryan Seacrest that “each year we get bigger and better” could be interpreted by the cynics among us as perhaps a slight bit of not-so-niceness?).

Not quite so front-and-center, though, was Monday’s news that “Idol” Grump-in-Chief Simon Cowell is calling it quits after this season.

Did I just see you shudder? Yeah. It’s that kind of scary.

But the “Idol” premiere’s many, many minutes contained plenty of predictable pabulum to take the edge off all this innovation.

There were good singers. There were very not-good singers. There were gratuitous crowd shots, the television equivalent of that friend who always sends out Evites to 500 people for house parties in his studio apartment.

And there were hyperbolic gems like this one, straight from the mouth of Seacrest: “The road to Hollywood stretches for thousands of miles, leading us through the lives of a new generation, one voice at a time.”

Can he be the next one to leave?

American Idol contestants in Boston courtesy FoxWe start this year’s journey in Boston, where the wits are as sharp as the accents. Our guest judge: Victoria Beckham, who use to be Posh Spice, but is now more famous as the wife of that good-looking soccer player with the squeaky voice. (Gwen Stefani didn’t write “Don’t Speak” for him, but she should have.)

Posh really, really, really wanted to zig-a-zig ah, but she wound up judging “Idol” instead.

STARTING BLOCK
The first contestant out of the chute teaches us an important lesson: never, under any circumstances, let anyone film your psych-up routine. Maybe it’s donning a football helmet and ramming your head against a wall. Maybe it’s singing loudly to Toni Basil‘s “Mickey.” Or maybe, as in the case of Janet McNamara, it’s jumping in place while saying things like “this is going to be sick!” No matter what, you’ll wind up looking silly.

And then there’s her singing. Her attempt at Natasha Bedingfield‘s “Pocketful of Sunshine” is less than illuminating.

“Does this window open?” Simon says.

However, she does confuse judge Kara DioGuardi with Paula more than once. Which makes me smile.

Maddy Curtis‘s family has a heartwarming story: after having a baby who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Maddy’s mom and dad adopted three more boys with Downs so they could all grow up together. That’s in addition to Maddy and their seven other children. Now *there’s* a legitimately big Evite.

And they’re from Bluemont, Va., which is in the D.C. burbs! Locals doing good alert!

Maddy picks Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah,” a beautiful tune that can be a bear to sing. But Maddy tames it with a clear, solid sound. The judges gush. Even Posh smiles! Maddy is in.

THE ‘BIG’ FIGHT
Andrew Fenlon, who’s lovingly described on-screen by the “Idol” producers as an “unemployed musician,” seems to have a chip on his shoulder. Sometimes, a contestant can seem angry or out of sorts because of a trick of editing. Not Andrew. He’s just a jerk.

He bitches repeatedly about having to wait for his turn to audition. He grouses at the “Idol” interviewers. He’s short with Seacrest, which is kind of like scowling at an overenthusiastic puppy. And he antagonizes Simon, a move that’s been the ruin of many a poor boy.

And his massacring of “House of the Rising Sun” — he sings in kind of a loud, mildly threatening, children’s show-esque overpronounced way — seals the deal.

Then, the judges let him have it.

“You just told me that you’re a little bit annoyed that you had to wait three hours to get your shot, while there are people who would wait years to do so,” Kara sputters. “So I am now angry at you. Who I don’t like. At all.”

Not only that, says a suddenly New Agey Simon, Andrew also has “very, very bad energy.”

But it’s Posh who delivers the killing stroke after Andrew admits he was trying to seem confident: “Very arrogant is how it came out, and you don’t have the goods to back it up.”

Then, Kara continues to heap on the abuse. Until she suggests that Andrew needs a spanking? (“A spanking?” he says incredulously.) It’s all very disturbing.

It isn’t, however, what the show’s promos seemed to promise, which is an encounter on par with the Kara-vs.-Bikini Girl showdown of last season (watch here). We had a vision of a good sparring session. And it was all that it turned out to be.

American Idol contestants in Boston courtesy Fox

Some of the other highlights:

» THE BEST
» Katie Stevens: She’s a 16-year-old with a sad story — “Idol” introduced us to her Portuguese-speaking grandmother who’s battling Alzheimer’s disease — and a smoky, absolutely spellbinding voice that’s only enhanced by her audition song choice, Etta James‘ immortal “At Last.” She might be my favorite of the night.
» Justin Williams: He’s got the voice. He’s got the control. And yes, Roxette fans, he’s got the look. This cancer survivor wowed the judges with his sound, which included “Idol’s” best male falsetto this side of Adam Lambert. “I think the girls are going to like you,” Posh said. This, I think, will turn out to be an understatement.
» Amadeo DiRicco: And I’m picking him not just because his family’s Big Italian Dinner made my stomach rumble. But, man, did he growl the hell out of Muddy Waters‘ “Hoochie Coochie Man.” As Posh said, “You have a lot of passion.” Let’s hope Amadeo succeeds — maybe he can be the anti-”Jersey Shore.”
» Leah Laurenti: Her “Blue Skies” soared during her audition, and her vulnerability reached the softie in me. I like her.
» Ashley Rodriguez: Her take on Alicia Keys was bubbly, energetic and, best of all, exceptionally well-sung. She’s one to watch this season.
» Tyler Grady: His wardrobe and song choice might have hailed from the ’70s, but this tree-climbin’ drummer with screws in his shattered wrists nailed Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get It On,” which is no mean feat.
» Luke Shaffer: The 24-year-old waiter’s got the trendy look and the indie-ish sound that seems to go relatively far in this competition. I’m not so sure about his knit cap, though.
» Joshua Blaylock: I’m putting too-nice Josh on this list not because I liked his audition all that much — I think the judges were right that it was a little too safe and a lot too bland — but because I think he’s got a good voice in there. And he’s likable. Maybe we’ll never see him again, but I have a hunch that we will.

American Idol contestants in Boston courtesy Fox

THE WORST
» Pat Ford: He wore the striped shirt and wore out the exclamation “Holla!” As if the early 2000s hadn’t already done that. Although he did call Simon “sassy,” which I enjoyed.
» Bill Bloom: This music teacher’s shouty butchering of Seal‘s “Kiss From a Rose” was such an abomination that my cat bolted across the room and lunged for the remote control. I’m not kidding.
» Michael Ryan: His musical theater background was in full flower as he brought us high notes, low notes, jazz hands and a go-get-’em punch at the end of his song that brought me my first laugh-out-loud moment of the season. It surely won’t be the last.
» Ryan Keane: If Jim Varney‘s Ernest would have sung Johnny Cash‘s “Ring of Fire,” his audition is what it would have sounded like.
» Norberto Gurrero: The only thing that shined during this old-school Andre Agassi-coiffed wannabe’s audition was his vest. However, if anyone’s ever looking to re-form Milli Vanilli, Roberto’s got the hair for it.
» “Idol’s” history lesson: The American Revolution never seemed so pointless.
» Unnamed jeans-jacket wearing guy who mumbled the lyrics to “All By Myself”: Comedy. Gold.

BEST BOSTON ACCENT
» Mike Davis: He’s an actor on Codzilla — or “Cawhdzilla,” if you’re spelling phonetically — who also did a superb version of The Beatles‘ “Yesterday” that melted at least one judge’s heart. “I think I gawht a date with Kara,” he told his mom after he earned his ticket to Hollywood.

THE MOST QUOTABLE
» “If this happens to me and I make it to Hollywood, I’ll touch numerous amounts of people.”
— Derek Hilton, the nature boy with the circa-1992 wardrobe and the Fabio-like locks who also gave us this response to Posh’s question about why he likes Chris Brown: “I just like how he touches young kids all around this world.” Brown’s looking for an image makeover, sure, but I doubt that’s the new image he had in mind.

» “I think you’re probably perfect working in retail.”
— Posh, trying a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. It comes off more like artificial sweetener.

We’re in it now, aren’t we, friends? Tomorrow, the “Idol” crazy train chugs down to Atlanta where we’ll be joined by guest judge Mary J. Blige. I’ll have your recap Thursday morning right here at ExpressNightOut.com/idol.

Till then, what did you think of Tuesday’s auditions? Of Simon’s impending departure? Of Posh’s performance? Let me know below in the comments section.

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