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‘American Idol’ premiere: Three takeaways from a show that may actually never end

Some “American Idol” viewers weren’t amused with judge Katy Perry’s pattern of flirting with male contestants. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

About two years after “American Idol” aired its “farewell season” … well, it’s back.

Although Fox kindly bid farewell to its groundbreaking reality competition in May 2016, producers weren’t ready to let it go, so they shopped it over to ABC. There have been questions about whether the public is truly craving yet another singing competition (with “The Voice,” “The Four,” etc.), and in the opening moments of Sunday night’s premiere, the show appeared to address it.

” ‘American Idol’ is the original and the best,” declared Lionel Richie, one of the celebrity judges along with Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. “I feel really excited about this.”

That settles that! And given that the judges joked about giving a golden ticket to a 7-year-old to attend Hollywood Week in 2026, this show may last forever. Here are three takeaways from the premiere:

‘American Idol’ is officially back. Can it overcome its rocky start?

1) The bad auditions are truly a thing of the past.

After Simon Cowell left the original show, the infamous “bad auditions” — particularly those where terrible singers were viciously mocked by the judges — mostly disappeared from the format. In this version of “Idol,” the judges went a little over the top as they tried to be nice.

At one point, host Ryan Seacrest explained, “This isn’t about getting knocked down but more about picking yourself back up.” An entire montage showed the judges gently trying to cheer up singers who didn’t get a golden ticket to Hollywood. “You’re not failing; you’re learning!” Perry consoled one weeping singer.

There were also multiple heart-wrenching backstories: 22-year-old Ron Bultongez talked about coping with his abusive father. While the judges originally decided Bultongez didn’t have an artistic identity after he sang James Bay’s “Let It Go,” Richie felt guilty and wound up changing his vote to “yes.” Later, 26-year-old Dennis Lorenzo (who sang Allen Stone’s “Unaware”) explained after his father’s murder, he made poor life decisions as a teenager — until his grandparents gave him a guitar. The judges were delighted to send him through.

Less tragic backstories also had glorious endings. “I don’t want the outside world to mess with your beautiful brain,” Bryan urged 17-year-old Catie Turner, a songwriter who admitted people often view her as too “intense.” And 16-year-old Harper Grace landed a well-deserved ticket to Hollywood after she confessed that she went viral at age 11 for a truly terrible rendition of the national anthem.

2) But the judges are still allowed to be harsh.

Perry, Richie and Bryan just stared at 26-year-old Koby, who bragged about her musical theater abilities and then had an atrocious audition.

“That voice is not going to work for records,” Richie said bluntly, and then added a bit condescendingly, “We are looking for an idol for popular music.”

They were equally horrified/candid with 22-year-old Nico Bones — but the less said about his “worm” song, the better.

3) The chemistry between the judges needs some work.

Let’s put it this way: Perry is definitely more skilled at being a reality singing show judge than hosting a live awards show. She easily outshined her two co-stars, immediately bonding with contestants and offering pretty sound advice. (Although let’s hope we don’t have to see another cringe-worthy moment like Perry surprising a 19-year-old contestant with his first kiss.)

That said, the chemistry still wasn’t quite there — however, Perry promised you just need to give them time:

Read more:

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