Sunday, January 18, 2009

American Idol Idol’s Back! Season 8 Kicks Off in Phoenix with New Judge

American Idol Season 8“The beauty of Idol is the journey itself.” Yes! So true! Ryan Seacrest provided those words of inspiration during the opening moments of the show’s eighth season Tuesday. Are you ready, America? Let’s take that journey!

The season’s two-hour kickoff introduced perhaps the most dramatic change since Idol premiered: The addition of a fourth judge. For the auditions in Phoenix, songwriter Kara DioGuardi was allocated a new spot between Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, with Simon Cowell still seated to have the final word. (He also has a strengthened vote that lets him break what might otherwise be a 2-2 tie.) DioGuardi, who looks like an older, more languid Katharine McPhee with a touch of Anna Paquin, is presumably meant to be a level-headed counterpoint to Paula, who lives in a magical, sometimes baffling world.

Kara — pronounced “care-ah” — was slickly pleasant, but you get the feeling she won’t really tolerate too much nonsense, and she knows how to make a point. Example: Katrina Darrell, nicknamed Bikini Girl because she auditioned in a teeny, tiny two-piece bathing suit that pleased Simon and Randy, was given a golden ticket to Hollywood over Kara’s strong objections (watch a clip). Kara’s parting shot: “Next time, come naked.”

The standout auditions:
• Scott MacIntyre, to our knowledge the first blind singer on Idol
• Emily Wynne-Hughes, a rocker girl
• Stevie Wright, who drew comparisons to Kelly Clarkson
• Michael Sarver, an oil-rig worker
• Alex Wagner-Trugman, a Clay Aiken-y nerd
• Deanna Brown, who had a strong country-rock vibe

Producers have decided to cut back on the audition shows this season — and also on the absurdly non-serious wannabes, which is a relief after the recent tragedy involving Paula’s suicidal fan. So why did they include a reminder of that disaster with the audition of Lea Marie Golde? An aspiring singer-songwriter in a pink cowboy hat and top, she described herself enthusiastically as “Kara DioGuardi’s biggest fan” and was presented as something of a cutie-pie kook. After she was thrown out, Simon said: “That was uncomfortable.” Kara laughed it off.

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