After a fairly disastrous twelfth season that was plagued by unlikable diva judges and dull competitors, American Idol is back with a new/old judging panel and a renewed emphasis on the people that have always made the show so great: the contestants. Former judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban are back for Season 13, and they're joined by one-time Idol mentor Harry Connick, Jr., whose easygoing charm is a welcome contrast to the outrageous antics of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj last season.
Lots of Internet ink has been spilled over the question of whether this upcoming season can "save" American Idol, but I personally don't think Idol ever really needed to be saved. Sure, ratings are down. But the singing competition still finished the 2012-2013 as the #6 show on television, no small feat for a series that is 12 years into its run. Sure, The Voice did better in the ratings. But The Voice is also shiny and new. If the show and its swiveling chairs are still getting those kinds of ratings 12 years in — or if it's even still around — I'll be surprised.
All of this is a long way of saying that I've been a fan of American Idol since I first heard Kelly Clarkson sing "Natural Woman" all the way back in 2001, and I'm still a fan of American Idol. It has created legitimate superstars time and time again, and I'd really love to see it create another one this season. With that said, let's get on to the Season 13 premiere recap! Just like the episode, we'll dive right into the contestants...
Troy Durden the Twerker, 28
Troy performs a surprisingly pretty rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Then he does a twerking version of the same song. Is nothing in this country safe from twerking? Judy Garland is rolling over (or twerking) in her grave right now.
Sam Woolf, 17
Poor Sam has had a tough life so far. His mom left, then his dad had problems, so he lives with his very sweet grandparents, who are clearly very supportive of him. He plays the guitar while singing Ed Sheerhan's "Lego House" during his audition, and he sounds very sweet. Nice kid, nice voice, nice new ticket to Hollywood.
Seacrest wants us to hashtag #ThisIsReal, which…was it fake before? Then we get to know the new/old judging panel a little bit better. J. Lo says she missed the singers. She probably also missed the massive paycheck and the chance to spend time with her young twins, which is fine. No judgement. Keith Urban survived sitting in between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey last season, which was no small feat. He's emerged from the diva ashes stronger and with more blond highlights in his hair. Harry Connick, Jr. is a singer and actor, but it will quickly become apparent that most of the young contestants have no idea who we his. But Connick, insanely likable as always, doesn't seem to mind that.
Ethan Thompson, 23, is a cutie pie and he gets a ticket to Hollywood. So does Linsdey Pedicone, 18, who has a soulful sound and likes cat tank tops. Jillian Jensen, 20, also gets a golden ticket and looks really familiar to me — has she auditioned before or are all these talented youngsters starting to morph into one big Idol wannabe persona? (Editor's Note: Jillian appeared on The X Factor's second season and talked about how she was bullied, so that's where we know her from.)
Taylor Hilldack, 19
Hildack is a jazz vocalist major at a community college. Girl, as a former theater major I would like to tell you that you should think about majoring in something useful like business or biology. Free advice from an old lady who spent too many good years waitressing! Keith and Harry say no and they are correct.
Then we get a bunch of nos for people whose auditions we don't see. Hallelluiah. Who wants to watch mediocre people sing when there are so many awesome people we can watch sing? The Idol producers finally seem to agree.
Stephanie Hanvey, 16
Stephanie absolutely loves Jennifer Lopez, and has a smoky tone and nice confidence for someone so young. The judges don't seem as into her audition as I would have expected them to be, but then all three of them say yes. Fake out! Poor Stephanie starts crying, probably because she knows it's highly unlikely she'll make it past Hollywood Week. But hey, free trip to LA for his Jersey girl and her leopard print hat.
Morgan Deplitch, 15
Morgan also kisses J. Lo's ass and it works out well for her. Never let it be said that ass kissing doesn't work. Harry pulls the dad card and freaks out about listening to a 15-year-old sing about shaving someone smooth. #Accurate. But Morgan gets a golden ticket anyway, hooray!
James Earl, 22
James is wearing a sweet Chinese-inspired jacket that his mother got for him from T.J. Maxx. It's clear he's a crazy person, and I guess I should consider it a miracle that this Idol premiere has made it this far without showcasing one of its trademark wackos. Shockingly, James does not make it to Hollywood. But at least he's got that sweet T.J. Maxx in.
Austin Percario, 17
He's one of those kind of annoying kids who isn't as talented as he (or his mom) thinks he is. But the judges are way more into it than I am, so Austin gets a ticket to Hollywood. Then his mom kisses him on the mouth and it's sort of weird. But yay Austin and his mom!
Kaitlyn Jackson, 15
She tells a story about how her grandfather once had a heart attack while she was up on stage singing. She wrote a song about the experience called "Another Angel," and…well, Kaitlyn is much better at singing than she is at songwriting. But that's okay, she has plenty of time to learn how to craft a less literal tune. Kaitlyn has a very pretty country tone to her voice and she, unsurprisingly, gets her golden ticket.
Keith London, 21
He sings on the street and lifts furniture for old people. Both are jobs that don't seem like they are actual jobs, but Keith's got student loans to pay so he does what he needs to do. He does an acoustic guitar version of Katy Perry's "Roar," a song I actively hate (it's aggressively mediocre and I won't hear arguments to the contrary). But I actually really like Keith's version and his sweet everyman vibe. I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do in Hollywood.
Sam Atherton, 23
He's terrible and mixes up chicken/egg metaphors. He calls himself a songwriter, so he sings an original song that should be taken out back and shot. Sam takes his rejection very well, dissing the judging panel and saying that he has perfect pitch. Thirteen years in, some things about American Idol will never change.
Shanon Wilson, 24
Shanon has a very nice R&B/church voice, but I feel like every season we have some sort of version of his kind of singer. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I guess I'm just bored by it? He gets a golden ticket, though, because you can't turn down talent like that.
We now interrupt this episode of American Idol for a SCANTILY CLAD PATRIOTS CHEERLEADER MONTAGE.
Stephanie Petronelli, 22
Stephanie achieves the double whammy of impressing me with her voice and making me wish I'd done about 1,000 more sit-ups last night. She gets two out of three yeses and a gaggle of other Patriots cheerleaders run in to congratulate her. God, now I wish I'd done a million more sit-ups.
Durann Cree, 17
Durann is beautiful and she clearly takes her style cues from crop top aficionado Miley Cyrus. But that sliver of ab doesn't win her a ticket to Hollywood. This is a girl who should definitely come back next year, though.
Savion Wright, 21
Diagnosed with ADHD as a child, Savion and his mother both think that music saved his life. Savion is a super cool cat who never auditioned before because he didn't think his creativity had reached the level it needed to be at in order to compete. That's like the most refreshing thing an Idol contestant has ever said, and I think I might love Savion. It would be awesome to see this guy go far this season, and luckily he gets things off to a great start with a ticket to Hollywood.
Then we get a montage of people who get mini spotlights and a series of golden tickets to Hollywood. Congrats semi-strangers! We look forward to getting to know you better (hopefully).
Madelyn Patterson, 22
This Georgia peach sings "Up to the Mountain" and it's better than I expected from someone wearing tiny hot pants. Don't ever judge a book by its hot pants, you guys. Madelyn gets yesses from the boys and a double yes from Jennifer Lopez.
Jordan Grizzard, 27
Jordan's audition package contains a new baby and Loudon Wainwright's song "Daughter," both of which are near and dear to my heart (I have a new baby of my own and my father and I danced to "Daughter" at my wedding), so I'm in tears before he even sings one note. Jordan sings "Ain't No Sunshine," which we've all heard a million times on Idol, but he still sounds good. His baby is also totally adorable, so he gets a golden ticket. It's the kind of feel-good moment Idol does so well, and I'm eating it up.
We're getting into the final stretch of this premiere, guys. Be strong. I got up for a minute to get some sour patch kids, so all I took away from this audition montage was that someone was crazy enough to perform Maroon 5 with a ukelele. Bold move, girl.
Malcolm Allen, 21
Malcolm plays the air guitar in his audition, and the judges are totally ready to write him off. But surprise! — he's actually really talented. Also, he's "literally in love with music." A golden ticket for you and your music bride, Malcolm.
Jennifer Lopez's beauty has the power to make people cry. Duly noted. Then we have a montage of people who don't know who Harry Connick, Jr. is. "He's white but he sounds black," is the best that one contestant can muster up.
Munfarid Zandi, 19
Munfarid knows who Harry Connick, Jr. is and he loves him so much that he checks his Wikipedia page every night before bed. That does not seem like a good use of your valuable time, Munfarid. But he's got a great, soulful voice, and somehow the audition devolves into Harry cradling Munfarid like a baby while he sings. "Why was he cradling you?" Seacrest asks. "Because I love him," Munfarid answers without a hint of irony. Oy. But this show doesn't discriminate against maybe-stalkers, so the dude gets a golden ticket.
Then the episode closes with a judge cake fight, as all good television should. American Idol is BACK, ya'll! What did you guys think? Which contestants had your favorite auditions of the night? Hit the comments below with your take on the Season 13 premiere. Do you like the new/old judging panel? Did you also feel like Idol spent a lot less time on crazy contestants in this episode? Comment away!