Simon who? Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez join Randy Jackson for an upbeat, friendlier season 10 premiere
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Something’s different in season 10. There’s a new man and a new lady. He’s wailing and she’s crying, but they both have the same hair. Oh, there’s private school student Randy Jackson and the class pet, “Seacrusty.” What’s that? A thick veil of condescension and chest hair has been lifted, allowing everyone in the previously shrouded atmosphere to have an opinion and act like he or she actually wants to be there? Case in point…the more-TRON-esque-than-ever opening credits with (gasp)…new fonts?!

Yep, it’s a whole new show, brought to you by “dream makers” J.Lo, S. Ty, and the Dawg. “Wow, it’s a different table,” said the thin canine judge. “But you know what? It’s hot. Let’s go, baby.” My thoughts exactly.

First and foremost: Steven Tyler is a marvel. I worried about him for only a split second, right after he asked, “Do you know what American Idol is?” It turns out Steven Tyler sure does know what American Idol is, and he’s about to — in the immortal words of P. Ab — make it his own. He is a wise old loon. Jennifer Lopez is fine too. Okay, she was kind of a mess and clearly took her time getting comfortable with the dark side of her new job. But I’m confident J. Lo can be swift and effective for the live shows. She seemed a bit shell-shocked at how desperately bad some of the contestants were. They’re fun to mock once they’re on camera, but she’s the one who actually has to facilitate the progression from “momentary sad clown” to “nobody as usual.” That seems really, really depressing. J. Lo is not mean! I have to admit, I’m pretty relieved. She’ll toughen up, no problem.

I didn’t think about Simon once. It felt great. (And I used to love Simon, especially back when he cared.)

NEXT: You’re all going to Hollywood! Okay! Let’s run through the Golden Ticket recipients who get to compete in Hollywood for “the most illustrious prize in music.” (LOL.)

Rachel Zevita, a deadly serious 22-year-old who was cut on the first day of season 6’s Hollywood Week. I remember her voice sounding much better then than it did during her “Hallelujah” this time, but it’s possible she was just nervous due to the staggering presence of J. Lo. (They all were.) “Mmmmmph,” murmured J. Lo in orgasmic appreciation of Rachel’s voice, even though she thought this “wasn’t the best audition” Rachel could have given. Aw, come on. “We oughta let her in the door, water that flower, because it’s gonna grow,” insisted Steven. There it is.

25-year-old musician Caleb Hawley kept the religious theme going with his rendition of “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” He was like a mangier version of Patrick Dempsey with his cream-and-gray striped pocket tee and sheepishness. S. Ty bopped along with glee, mouthing the words, knocking on the table and clapping along. “That’s the thing! Ohhh!” he cooed, after remarking on the uniqueness of Caleb’s high voice. J. Lo felt it too: “I think you’re cute.” Meanwhile, Randy had to go and downplay things: “He definitely deserves another shot.” Whatever, Randy. (Still, nice to see R. Jacks take a stand!) I’m with Steven. I think Caleb “could rip it up in all those songs.” Also, I’m pretty sure S. Ty was beggin’ for a hug with his outstretched hands just before Caleb walked out, but he quickly played it cool by resuming applause.

Ooooooooh. We’ve got a 15-year-old, a live one. Quiet! Do not disturb this rare and delicate species. Idol has decided to reduce the minimum age to 15 this season, which is like lowering the “You Must Be This Tall” sign a quarter of an inch on a dangerous amusement park ride that, really, no child should be going on. Too risky. But too late! There they all were. Thousands upon thousands of hopeful, wriggling youths. One was musical-theater student Kenzie Palmer, who seemed way too gorgeous and composed to be only 15. She sang beautifully and instantly won one of J. Lo’s most serene smiles of the night, but S. Ty wasn’t moved enough, wasn’t “feeling that pizzazz.” Randy jumped right on that train. “You could have moved a lot more for me,” said The Dawg, who asked her to step awkwardly to her side and then back to ensure that Kenzie Palmer was physically capable of moving. She passed.

Three randoms — a black guy, a brunette with her hair pulled back (who later said Steven Tyler’s mouth was sexy), and a brunette with her hair down made it through, but why should we learn their names when there’s a bright green Ford Focus ad to plop on screen instead?

NEXT: Move over, Snooki — there’s a version of you that can sing Tiffany Rios arrived in her New Jersey Stereotype costume, and she wasn’t kidding. “All you haters get a life, because this is how we do in Jersey,” she announced before taking us through a tutorial on how one should style one’s hair extensions. Tiffany had boobs, and an ass, just like her hero J. Lo and many other women. Tiffany’s godmother had taken her to see Selena, so she cried. “I can’t look at her,” said Tiffany re J. Lo. It’s so weird — I was thinking the same exact thing due to Tiffany’s orange skin and terrible nails. “Don’t cryyyyyyyy,” whined Selena, but it was no use. She had to go out there, into the wild. J. Lo teetered out and they hugged, allowing S. Ty to acknowledge the women’s assets by asking Randy if he was looking down. The most brilliant part about this tender moment was not that Steven called Randy “boy,” but that Steven was so jazzed about them both being straight men that he extended his hand for a high five and Randy offered him his fist! It was a magical paper-covers-rock compromise on the part of both straight men. Anyway, after singing one line of her “original” tune about how America needed her for higher ratings on TV, Tiffany ripped open her shirt to reveal two stars on her nipples. “What’s with the jujubes on your oo-oo-bes?” wondered Steven. This is getting really long-winded. Tiffany switched to a real song, executed a deep squat while expertly belting out “You are my man,” and she’s through.

16-year-old Robbie Rosen took his time with his breathy version of “Yesterday,” inspiring Randy to expand his vocabulary (“marinated”) and J. Lo to limit her own while waiving the entire voting process (“No. Hollywood. Bye.”) Hip synovitis kept Robbie wheelchair-bound at a young age, but now he’s fine. I loved how he didn’t feel the need to mention his tragic past in front of the judges, then quickly remembered that of course, the judges always have their cheat sheets so they already knew. I always wondered how people’s different sob stories are designated on the cheat sheets. I mean, I’m sure the cheat sheet is probably in English and includes words like “kindergarten” and “wheelchair,” but I like to imagine that they use pictures instead, for ultimate ease and efficiency. So it’s just generic clip art of a wheelchair (physical affliction), coffin (loved one lost), map of the U.S. with an X over it (foreigner), smiley face (slow learner), rainbow bashfully scooting under a cloud (stealth gay), or tiny campfire (convicted arsonist). Maybe these were Paula’s cheat sheets. I’m kidding/I love Paula.

Ashley Sullivan, 25, is obsessed with Britney Spears, but then she sang a show tune. J. Lo tried to let her down easy with the “just try Broadway” approach, as if anyone not good enough to make it through to American Idol‘s Hollywood Week can just waltz onto a Broadway stage and succeed. “But I wanna be, like, the first show-tune pop star. I wanna be that Liza Minnelli for Idol,” Ashley said. ON HER KNEES. It didn’t work, so she began a stomping cheer. Still no. Out came the tears. Ugh, fine. J. Lo started crying. I would have started crying, but I was cringing too hard. “You’re going to Hollywood!” Randy shakily sang out, Britney’s “Crazy” appropriately swelling in the background. “I’m going to Cal-i-forn-i-a,” Ashley bragged to the camera as if bestowing the name of a magical, mystical, wonderful, soul-crushing place upon the unwashed masses. Later, plebes!

NEXT: The most annoying girl in the world

Victoria Huggins seemed to be some sort of American Idol videographer, and stunningly this was perhaps the least annoying thing about her. She’s 16 and three-quarters years old, is a slightly less cute version of Rebecca Logan from Greek, and, like everyone else, deserves to be on American Idol because she wants it so much. “It’s not normal for a 16-year-old to want something very badly,” she informed us. What????? That is like the definition of being 16 years old. Agggh! These people! Anyway, Victoria Huggins — even her name is like an adorable pink bubble you just want to pierce with a rusty needle — sang a very rushed rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Steven’s critique blew me away here: “You’re so proud.” It was simple, elegant, not harsh, not even meant to be harsh, I’m sure. Just completely honest and cut to the heart of the matter. She’s so proud. “Lord have mercy,” he continued, adding that she had “just the right amount” of leg showing under her skirt. When it was Randy’s turn, Victoria prodded him, “Yo, yo, Dawg,” and this nearly took his head off, he was so wowed. All three of them just severely flipped out. “Dude, listen, for that alone, the most personality ever on Idol.” Again, what? Help me out — was her quip really that great or were these three cooped-up hens desperate to overreact to something/anything? What we have here is an entitled teenager with a ‘tude. But she’s got a decent voice, so you know what that means. COMPLETE PACKAGE.

The judges liked novelty-diner waitress Devyn Rush, 20, and Melinda Ademi, a 16-year-old from Kosovo, for the same reason: humility. Devyn’s voice was my favorite of the night — quirky and somewhat restrained, with, as Steven put it, “just the right amount of sauce in there.” I wonder if she can have mass appeal or if she’ll get pegged early on as the “old-fashioned” type. Shame on Devyn for pulling a bait and switch on the judges by wearing a simple solid-color shirt and jeans just like Carrie Underwood did and letting her voice command the audition on its own. J. Lo filled her in: “Your voice is a star. You gotta start acting that way, dressing yourself that way, fixing yourself that way…. It’s about image as well.” Noooooooooo. Bad Idol, bad! This is what’s cute about her! Cool people will like her if she doesn’t do all that! Ugh. Moving on. The drop-dead gorgeous Melinda also dared to downplay herself with a red belted tunic and flat shoes. The nerve! “You won the lottery twice,” said Randy, referring to her past immigration and future Idol potential at once. Shame spiral: I kept thinking “Melinda’s brother is hot,” then felt gross — and like he maybe wasn’t that hot after all, but the overwhelming thought was Annie, you are gross — when I realized it was actually her dad.

Salt of the earth Brielle Von Hugel, 16, had won me over even before it was revealed that her adorable father had survived throat cancer. Steven loved her “Endless Love” and the flower in her hair. “Good for you. You keep wearing ’em, because you’ve got a beautiful voice,” he encouraged her. I feel like as long as you were pretty and had a beautiful voice, Stephen Tyler could convince you it was okay to do just about anything. “You keep eating that toilet paper, because you’ve got a beautiful voice.” “Good for you. Don’t worry about that murder; you have a beautiful voice.” J. Lo hesitated to put Brielle through due to her age and having “a tiny bit of work to do,” but of course she said yes too. Brielle’s dad was lovin’ it. “I beat cancer and she’s gonna go to Hollywood,” he beamed. Triumph: Who wore it better?

NEXT: Travis Orlando and his adorable glasses are yours

Of course, they saved 16-year-old Travis Orlando and his IT’S GONNA BE FANTASTIC shirt for last. For two years, Travis, his sick dad, and his twin brother lived in a shelter with “people that had nothing” (illustrated ever so subtly by a public phone left dangling off the hook). “Come home, come home,” OneRepublic implored Orlando Travis. But Orlando Travis had no home. F— you, Ryan Tedder! (Hey, Adam Lambert sang that song too.) I liked Orlando instantly, but found his “Eleanor Rigby” cover a bit too contrived — any cover of this sounds weird to me, actually, because the simply sung original is so perfectly eerie on its own. Steven immediately asked for another song (yes!), so Orlando launched into Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” Typical. Randy swooned — perhaps at the mirror image of his own eyeglasses, but he swooned all the same. The judges sensed his nerves, but couldn’t blame the kid — he’d been sitting around in terror for nearly 127 hours. “I think you sing beautiful,” Steven said. Same as Brielle. Cute, young, talented. In.

Oh, and there were a few sad sacks, as always, but far less camera time was awarded to the more blatant fame whores than usual. Most of them were genuinely deluded people with no talent. S. Ty gave a fisherman Boy Scout a technical foul as Ryan cradled his mom or aunt (who sang much better than he did) outside. An adult baby in a colorful plaid shirt refrained from burping long enough to give “Proud Mary” a shot and beg the very reasonable question “Did you eat paint chips as a child?” What do you mean? He’s just a baby. The entire Yoji “Pop” Asano display was too sad to even break down in detail, but did serve nicely as a lead-in for a montage of all the young things/creeps singing along with Miley Cyrus.

And sprinkled in among all of these winners and losers, as usual, were a few blisteringly misguided souls still convinced, post-rejection, that singing was the right path for them. “I really just wanna sing for my whole life,” said a crying girl. “It was supposed to be the whole world for me. I was supposed to help my family,” said another. “Today I will become a star,” announced an unremarkable teenager never to be heard from again. This is all they’ve ever wanted. Why won’t you let them have it?

You know, in retrospect, it might have been easier and a lot less time-consuming to let Randy recap the two-hour premiere instead. “We did amazing, today and yesterday,” he said of the judges at the end.

There you have it.

Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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