'American Idol' season 8 premieres

Surely by now, you've heard all about all the changes afoot on this season of American Idol, the eighth. Among them, there is a new judge, Kara DioGuardi, there will be fewer audition shows (thank goodness -- my discomfort with these is well documented), and we'll see more Hollywood round and end up with 36 instead of 24 semifinalists.

But hey, it's starting right now, so let's see how it all plays out, shall we?


The episode starts out with an Idol favorite -- the montage! Scary auditioners, finalists, winners, surprises, someone throwing water on Simon Cowell, even a glimpse of Dunkelman. And it's followed by ... another montage, this one of what we'll be seeing this season. Then after the break ... auditions in Phoenix. ...

Guess what? It was hot in Arizona. And it was where Kara DioGuardi started her new job as a judge. By the way, she is a songwriter and has worked with a bunch of stars in the studio.


First up is Tuan Nguyen, who is going to do tapping and "drill-style dancing" at his audition. He sings "The Way You Make Me Feel," doing a full-on MJ impression with all the tics and grabbing himself and so on. Oh, and the singing is bad. New judge Kara's first verdict: "I've never seen anything like that, in a not-so-good way." Hey, some honesty! This could be refreshing. And he is out.

Emily Wynn-Hughes is a woman whose mother gave up a career as a singer to be a better mom, but her past clearly inspired her daughter. Emily got a bunch of tattoos, so she "wouldn't have to work an office job." She sings "Barracuda," and she nails it. Paula says she's "top five." Top five what? She tells them she is basically turning her back on her band, which is going to have to give up on a European tour if she goes to Hollywood. Which she totally does. She says, "It just feels like a confirmation of everything I've believed since I was a little kid." Hmm, perhaps I can still be a ballerina! Nah ...

Randy Madden calls himself "a rock star living in a box." Oh, this should be rich. Pre-audition, he tears up talking about how he just wants someone to tell him he's great. And in another clip he says, "This is going to change my life tremensely." (Tremendously or immensely? It's both!) In the audition, he brings out the "rock star in a box" line again and sings "Livin' on a Prayer." It's boring. He cries. Paula flips Simon off during the judging, which is the most interesting moment of the audition, and that's not saying much. I hope this was a put-on, that he was trying to be "the crying rocker guy" and that wasn't really him.

J.B. Ahfua sings for the judges, no backstory, just a good voice -- and a unanimous yes vote. He cries afterward, and it seems very real (*cough* unlike what preceded it *cough*).

Michael Gurr is terrified, sweating, shaking, nauseated. This is going to be bad. And it is bad, incomprehensible, weird. They ask what his second song was going to be, and it was a Kara DioGuardi song. They insist he sing again, and it's bad, incomprehensible, weird. He's so overwhelmed that he needs some medical attention.

Will Kunick sings Tears for Fears' "Mad World," sort of. D.J. Bradley attempts a Celine song, sort of. Shawn Vasquez takes on a Dionne Warwick tune, sort of. Most of the embarrassing auditions are mercifully short. Yay!

Aundre Carraway is going to sing his own song, which is never a good sign. It's called "Cactus Baby," and there's odd dancing, yodeling and a whole lot of no. Security has to loom to get him out of there.

Arianna Afsar is 16 and started singing when she was 6. She's also the founder of "Adopt-a-Grandfriend," in which teens visit older folks in senior homes and perform for them and spend time with them. Awww. She sings "Put Your Records On," and yay, she is good. Unanimous yes.

"Nine others" got through to Hollywood day one in Phoenix. Does that mean nine more than those we saw, nine others besides Arianna? Who can tell?

Phoenix, day two.

Elijah Scarlett has a really deep voice. Simon doesn't seem to buy that it's his real voice. He doesn't say anything, but there is this look on his face. Well, then he says he is "not hopeful." And he shouldn't be, becaue Elijah is not phenomenal.

Pink cowboy hat girl Lea Marie Golde, who is 16, calls herself a cross between Madonna and Hilary Duff. And "Kara DioGuardi's biggest fan." She has written a ton of songs, "over a hundred," which she is carrying in a pink binder. But instead of her own work, she sings "Every Time We Touch." Paula tells her she really needs to work on her voice. It was pretty nasal; no one said that specifically, but it was true. Kara said she sounded like she was in a musical trying to do a baby voice but gives her props for being so committed to songwriting. It's a no.


Stevie Wright, also 16, was named for Stevie Nicks, which is some pressure, our narrator Ryan says. She sings "At Last," and it's quite lovely. Kara says "there is something there," and Paula says she has good control. Simon tells her she needs to be more selfish and competitive, and Randy says she was born with it. It's a yes.

Michael Sarver works on an oil field, doing "the fifth most dangerous job in the world." He's hoping Idol is his ticket off the rig and back to spending more time with his family and giving them less to worry about it. Hmm, I get what he means, especially with his dangerous job, but it's not like being the Idol is a life of leisure. He sings "Thank You." Oooh, soulful. They are all surprised by his voice. Simon says he has "that likability thing." It sounds like Ryan calls him Jeremy on his way out the door, but even on replay I can't really tell.

Montage of badness.

"Bikini Girl" Katrina Darrell says she wore her bathing suit to the audition to get attention. She sings a little Mariah ("Vision of Love"), and she starts out OK, but then she is allllllll over the place. Simon says yes, Randy says yes. Kara sings it back to her, trying to show that she had the tempo wrong. She tells Katrina doesn't have the chops to sing the song, and Katrina says Kara's version wasn't any better, and it's a little catfightish for a while. Yawn. Paula and Kara think she's terrible, Randy and Simon think she's awesome, and apparently if there is a tie, you go to Hollywood, because she gets a golden ticket. I think her voice wasn't bad, but that, as Kara said, the song was too big for her. Oh, then there is this whole thing where she said she was going to make out with Ryan Seacrest if she got to Hollywood and she chases him down and tries to kiss him, and they play Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." Huh?

Montage of how to pronounce Kara (it rhymes with Sarah, but Simon makes it sound like car-a).

Then there is Eric Thomas, aka "Sexual Chocolate," which he has 1) named himself and 2) had tattooed on his back in gargantuan script. He sings some Stevie Wonder. Simon: "Thank you, Sexual." Paula notices on his application that his mom is going to get him a car if he fails. He's getting a car!


Montage of sadness.


But crazy-happy Brianna Quijada sings "Let's Hear It for the Boy." Simon says her personality got her in. They give her a chance to sing her second choice, "Killing Me Softly." She freaks out and tries to start the song, but can't decide where to begin and then keeps starting over. Then she won't stop, but she finally does. Randy says no, Kara says no, Paula says yes, and it's down to Simon, who actually says yes and that he likes her. So I'm not really sure what happened, but she gets through.

Deanna Brown is at auditions without her family, but she seems OK with it. She sings "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," and she's a little vibrato-y for my taste but otherwise pretty good. I'm hoping she was just an eensy bit nervous. Simon asks if she has been trying to get into the business, and she says she is in L.A. trying to make it now. He asks why she thinks she hasn't made it yet, and she says she just hasn't stepped into the right opportunity. She makes it -- well at least to Hollywood.

Cody Sheldon loves making horror movies in his free time. But his song choice is "Wonderful World" by James Morrison, which doesn't quite track. Kara calls him very surprising, and, with horror-movie effects, we eventually find out he makes it through.

Montage of Simon asking people what three countries they'll be popular in and people naming all sorts of not-countries ("Atlanta," "Europe," "New York").

19-year-old geek Alex Wagner-Trugman goes through this whole story about how he used to sing in his closet so as not to bother anyone in his house, but the closet got mold, so he had to literally leave the closet, which leads to unfortunate comments from Simon and Randy about him coming out of the closet. Sigh. Anyway, he sings "Baby Come to Me," and if you don't watch him, his voice isn't terrible, but he is so nervous and twitchy that it is awful to watch. Randy says he was weirdly on pitch and Simon totally disagrees. He gets three yes votes and he is through.

Montage of crazy performances of "Wanted Dead or Alive."

The final contestant is Scott Macintyre, who is visually impaired, and whose audition has been promoed before every single break. The producers love him and his backstory. He's a 23-year-old singer-songwriter, and he says his lack of vision has driven him to explore the world of sound. He sings "And So It Goes" by Billy Joel. Simon calls him a cool guy, and Paula says she likes his voice, especially in the softer tones. Kara says it's courageous of him to come out and sing without his instrument, which he usually performs with. He gets four yes votes, which is not really a surprise.

So 27 got through in Phoenix, and tomorrow night, they head to Kansas City.

What did you think? I'm withholding my verdict on Kara just yet. She added some blunt comments, which were somewhat refreshing, but the whole Bikini Girl exchange was oddly defensive. Well, we have two more hours this week and who knows how many for the rest of the season to figure out how she fits into things.

(Photo courtesy of Fox)

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