'American Idol' Premiere Recap: Ladies Lead the Pack (VIDEO)
Judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Randy Jackson attempt to revive and reload the FOX franchise on Season 12.
After the usual wind up from host Ryan Seacrest, a montage of Season 11 winner, Philip Phillips’ whirlwind year, and footage of the new judge’s accomplishments, the first round of auditions kicked off at New York City's Lincoln Center.
Veteran judge, Randy Jackson seemed ready to work, but before the first note had been attempted, the ladies of the panel were already sharpening their claws.
The resulting back and forth bickering continued as the season’s first Hollywood hopeful, Michael Buonopane, entered the room to his self-made theme music of “We Will Rock You."
His half-hearted attempt at Sean Paul’s “Temperature” failed to impress the judges, prompting the first rejection of the season. On his way out, he told Mariah that her hit, “All I Want For Christmas,” was the best Christmas song ever, prompting Nicki’s snarky response, ”Sure was, wasn’t it?” and Mariah’s quick quip, “Still is darling, 17 years later and it’s still No. 1.” Burn.
After a few more tense moments between the female judges -- this time, Mariah challenged Nicki’s knowledge of the movie, Mean Girls and insisted she needed more ice -- the auditions continued.
The first female to wow the judges is 28-year-old, Teena Torres of Queens, N.Y. The Camp Mariah alumni’s rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” earned her this season’s first ticket to Hollywood.
No Idol opener would be complete without showing some outrageously awful auditions, and this year was no exception. Case in point, 15-year-old James Bae and his painfully poor performance of Justin Bieber’s “One Less Lonely Girl” was eerily reminiscent of William Hung’s notoriously bad version of “She Bangs” on Season 3.
Christina “Isabelle” of Duluth, Ga. blew the judges away with her version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” All four judges were impressed with her singing skills, with a super-stoked Keith Urban saying, “I think you’re a natural singer. Who did you listen to growing up? Mariah?”
Something new to auditions this season? Sob stories don’t go as far as they used to. While the judges seemed touched by Evan Ruggiero, the 21-year-old, one-legged, tap-dancing cancer survivor, they weren’t inspired enough to send him through to the next round, even after he tried two songs and pulled out a guitar.
“I like your voice, Evan. I don’t know if the star factor is there yet,” admitted Keith.
While the judges seemed tough at times, other decisions were questionable. Shira Gavrielov, already had a No. 1 hit in her native Israel and released her first album at age 17. After moving to the U.S., she’s ready to revive her singing career and the judges seem inclined to help make that dream a reality as they gave her a unanimous “yes” after what seemed like a mediocre turn at Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie." Watch her audition again above and tell us what you think.
Although 24-year-old Brooklyn native, Frankie Ford, choked during his first attempt at The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams," he took another stab at it and sealed the deal, despite shaky vocals.
“I like you. Big voice. There’s a lot of musicality,” said Urban. “I like this kid. I believe in you man,” added Jackson.
Another wacky audition came from a wig-wearing Benjamin Gaisey, 27, who sang a medley of love songs to the ladies, including Boyz 2 Men’s hit, “I’ll Make Love To You,” clad in a red, leather tracksuit.
It was downhill from there for a while and the judges got worse and worse at disguising their disdain. “That was just bad,” Randy told one especially bad (but beautiful) contestant.
“You can study, and maybe do this as a hobby,” Mariah told another unimpressive auditioner.
Sarah Restuccio, 17, was a welcomed relief after a slew of not-so-good singers had diminished morale. She lives and works at a blueberry farm with her family in New Jersey, and wowed the female judges with Carrie Underwood’s “Mama’s Song." “I feel like you can be an enormous country star,” noted Nicki.
Still, Randy and Keith needed some convincing, so she spit an impromptu version of Nicki’s own hit, “Superbass,” and earned herself a ticket to Hollywood.
If the first round is any indication of Season 12’s prospects, this year may be one for the ladies in more ways than one. Far more females (that we saw on TV) were sent through to Hollywood. Nicki and Mariah stole the show at judge’s table and show no signs of slowing down.
Did you agree with the judges' choices? Have the new judges reinvigorated Idol?
-- Cortney Wills
Round 2 takes place at the Chicago Auditions when American Idol airs Thursday at 8PM on FOX.