'American Idol' opens its first post-Paula season

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; C01

That splashing noise you heard Tuesday night was the sound of sharks being jumped on "American Idol" as it kicked off its ninth season.

Paula Abdul is gone as an "Idol" judge, of course after a money dispute with producers and the network -- and with her departed all sense of danger from the increasingly been-there-done-that auditions with which the show kicks off.

How fitting, then, that they brought in multiple-comeback veteran Victoria Posh Beckham-Spice to be the first Celebrity "Paula Fill-In" for the season debut in Boston.

But when soft-spoken Joshua Blaylock finally screwed up the courage to audition for the singing competition this year -- he's 28, which means he'll age-out after this edition -- and Beckham-Spice declared him "a nice little boy" after his rendition of "Bless the Broken Road," the American Idol Decency Police didn't even bother to pull out their notebooks. Had Paula made such an observation, they would have rushed to get out their nets.

Beckham-Spice appears to have cracked open her head, because it seemed to be held together with a strip of lace she found in her granny's closet. The other Idol judges politely pretended not to notice.

A clip was shown in which Ellen DeGeneres announced happily on her syndicated talk show that she was taking over for Paula -- though not until Hollywood Week. Little does she know that judge Simon Cowell will pull the rug out from under her the very day she starts her new career, on Day 1 of Hollywood Week.

On his way to the first day of Hollywood Week taping to welcome Ellen on Monday, Simon stopped by Winter TV Press Tour 2010 to announce that he'll leave the show at season's end to focus his energies on ramming his "Idol" knockoff "The X-Factor" down Fox's throat.

Seeing Simon on the taped season debut of "Idol," he already looked like a ghost haunting the joint.

This year's first night was thin on the usual freaks and geeks. On this night, the airtime was mostly reserved for the Idol Laying on of the Hands.

There's sweet teenager Maddy Curtis, No. 9 of 12 children -- three of whom have Down syndrome, of whom she told the "Idol" camera: "They see the world in colors and we all need to see the world that way." She sings Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," guaranteeing her a spot in Hollywood.

"Amazingly, for 16, you're not annoying," Simon said, paying her his ultimate compliment.

Likewise pretty Katie Stevens, whose grandmother has Alzheimer's disease and, she said, will not recognize her much longer. Katie sang Mack Gordon/Harry Warren's "At Last" and got herself a ticket to the next round. Katie called her grandma, who wept with happiness, causing show host Ryan Seacrest to well up with tears.

And how about Tyler Grady, the drummer who had to have metal rods put in both arms after falling from a tree. He's headed to Hollywood, too, because, Beckham-Spice said, he has "good taste."

Not to forget cancer patient Justin Williams, who sang "Feeling Good." He's in remission. He's also through to Hollywood.

And, to round out the Touchy-Feely Episode, Leah Laurenti got a ticket to Hollywood after juxtaposing Irving Berlin's tune "Blue Skies" with her emotional back story about having parents -- who were really, really strict -- making her spend "like, my entire life" in church.

"I feel like you're very emotional -- you're on the brink," judge Kara DioGuardi said.

As is the show.

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