Every superstar, the Season 10 promos tell us, begins with a dream. And it’s not just any dream—not that recurring one where you’re flying naked to a math test you haven’t studied for and Ryan Seacrest gives you a cigar. (Everyone has that one, right?) No, it’s the American Dream, the iconic story of a humble, starry-eyed (or starry-boobed) young girl arriving in the Big City (East Rutherford), biding her time waitressing and appearing on Law and Order: SVU, and praying for the chance to be ogled by Steven Tyler on national television—ew, but I guess it was supposed to be OK because he’s an authentic rock star. Plus, Simon used to flirt, and at this point it looks like Tyler is meant to be something like the judging love child of Simon Cowell’s wandering eye and Paula Abdul’s wandering mind.
That D word was everywhere last night, from footage of Melinda Ademi, her refugee parents, and war-torn Kosovo, to the heartbreaking/warming story of Travis Orlando, whose dad imparted to us the lesson that even when you grow up in a violent, drug-infested homeless shelter, it’s great to be American. It was also all over the pre-broadcast retrospective American Idol: Welcome Home, which featured historical winners affirming that they are all indeed now living the Dream (even Taylor Hicks). Our original Idol Kelly Clarkson said it most eloquently: “That’s the American Dream; it gives everybody this sense of hope that, man, if they can do that, like, I can totally do this as well.” Yes We Like Totally Can!
Considering the potentially catastrophic litany of changes announced since last May—at least 18 by the list I’ve been keeping—the producers were smart to let the premiere reassure us that Idol is still the show we know. And it did; it reassured us so hard that for one uncertain moment I thought Season 3 had been invited to be a guest judge. Ademi’s family story recalled Leah LaBelle’s, we had a DeGarmo-style, Disney-peppy America’s Most Talented Kids alumna (the sweet-voiced Victoria Huggins), a girl wearing a plumeria over one ear (Brielle Von Hugel for Season 3’s Jasmine Trias), and the Hung-esque ridicule of an Asian immigrant, Yoji “Pop” Asano. While it made me cringe in an old-school Idol way, I have to say his segment did remind me that failure—which is sometimes just a stepping stone to success, as William Hung superbly demonstrated—can be part of the Dream, too.
Come to think of it, though, the judges were not so much the ones doing the ridiculing; that was mostly left to us. No one rolled their eyes, Randy did not snicker behind his paperwork once, and in general the vibe was so gentle that Jennifer Lopez couldn’t bring herself to say no to anyone—not even when Rachel Zevita’s initially promising R&B turn turned unpromisingly operatic—until she heard Achille Lovle do unspeakable (and definitely unsingable) things to Madonna’s “Dress You Up.” Once past that hurdle, Lopez seemed supportive but committed to her job, and whatever Randy thinks of her singing, I’m betting that her voice of reason will be just what the new panel needs.
But all in all, it looks like we’ll be waiting a while for the promised Season 10 revolution. Last night felt almost like any old audition episode, on one of the nights where a guest judge joined in and Simon or Paula—or that one time when Simon and Paula—were missing. Now that we’ve met approximately 15 of the 125,000 folks Ryan claims auditioned this season, and not met about 40 of those sent on to Hollywood, we are moving on to the Big Easy. While I hope tonight’s temps will be more bons than last night’s, it was a solid start, and the old Dream made things comfortably familiar enough in spite of the show’s New Deal. Welcome home, American Idol.