The returning judge steamrolls new judge Harry Connick Jr. in the season 13 premiere

By Annie Barrett
Updated January 16, 2014 at 03:22 AM EST
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Welcome back to American Idol, rechristened for season 13 as Oh My God Jennifer Lopez Is Looking at Me.

Along with AWESOME new judge Harry Connick Jr. and returning judge Keith Urban, J. Lo is back on what Ryan Seacrest’s voiceover calls “the best panel we’ve ever assembled.” Somewhere on a distant luxury island or Hollywood hill, Simon Cowell blinks, breathes deeply, drinks another shot of green stuff, and continues to not watch.

“I really want it to be a dog fight,” says multi-hyphenate Harry. Am I allowed to refer to your mom’s favorite singer without including his last name and rank in his family? It feels weird. Anyway, I dig his intensity — part of the reason last season was so disappointing was the lack of competitive spirit throughout. And who doesn’t love dogs?

The Chamber, a shower stall of doom with a big green light on the wall, is a new thing this season; so far it’s of zero consequence. Something needs to happen in there. Spiders? Fog? Fighting dogs? A creepy soundscape that throws off people’s pitch? Raise the stakes a little.

There they are, the teeming masses of humanity. Kids hold up huge white signs with things like “DREAM” and “I AM ON MY WAY” and “DELUSIONAL!” on them. “Life can change today,” a gruff dad begrudgingly admits. And we are ALL on our way to the New England Patriots Present: Ryan Seacrest. American Idol XIII is on!

As always, in these auditions recaps I’ll only focus on the successful children, the ones who received golden tickets (that this year look more like nameplates for one’s new desk job as an office temp). Let’s get going!

Troy Durden, 28, is a confident bar singer from Boston. “I’m really good,” he says. “If a 10 is the highest, I’m a hundred.” NOT A PLAUSIBLE SCALE, dude. Your pentatonics are already way off. “Most of the time I get standing ovations,” he goes on. “People love it.” Well, that does tend to happen when you perform in front of all the drunk friends you invited to your bar. Anyway, Troy is cute and nice, despite that nonsense and the extreme twerking-related nonsense that follows as Troy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” not that well. Harry just has a blank half-grin on his face that alternates between “Ehhhhh” and “This? This is where we’re setting the bar? Where is my first of many classic Southern cocktails?”

Troy gets a golden ticket, but I think it’s only so that the producers can work in this knee-slapper: “It is a long shot but it just…might…twerk!” the judges revel in unison.

“But listen, I want everybody to take you seriously, too,” J. Lo’s neon-hued scrunchie warns their bartender.

NEXT: Harry can’t handle a 15-year-old singing ‘shaving me smooth’ (he’s Southern) Sam Woolf, 17, is a sensitive guitar player with a treble clef tattoo on his arm that is killing Harry Connick Jr. Because it’s lame? Hell no! Harry loves it; he’s just conflicted because he’d just told his 17-year-old daughter she could not get a tattoo. I wonder what his daughter wanted to get. My guess is a bass clef drowning in a sea of washed-up pianos sold for parts. The ultimate rebellious act!) “That tattoo looks frickin’ great on you,” Harry raves to Sam. “Does it?!” wondered Sam. DOES IT? Sam seems smart, and he’s the sensitive, delicate type young girls could enjoy, I suppose. I wasn’t fond of the speedy, auction-style rendition of “Lego House” and question this kid’s star potential, but you never know. I’m getting pretty old these days. And Sam could have other music-inspired tattoos. Perhaps we just haven’t seen enough of him yet.

The premiere was big on clumping three decent candidates into one quickly inter-cut segment, which I’ll call Power Chords from here on out. Power Chord #1: Ethan Thompson, 23, Lindsey Pedicone, 18, and Jillian Jensen, 20. Wait a minute…. yep, I remember Jillian. She’d made it to the “judges’ homes” round of The X Factor, season 2 and was ultimately rejected by Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas after she overdid it on Demi’s suggestion to show more personality onstage. She had a big school-bullying plot line and everything. We barely hear her tonight, but Harry Connick Jr. will certainly remember her. “Will and Grace was one of my favorite shows in the entire world,” she beamed as he granted her request for a hug.

Okay. Not blown away yet (though that Ethan Thompson is cute enough in a cleaned-up Phillip Phillips-y way to win this whole thing, I’m calling it right now). The judges turn down pretty young waitress Taylor Hildack, 19, but give in to Jersey girl Stephanie Hanvey, 16. To me these were very similar contestants, except Stephanie wore a leopard print hat and told J. Lo she’d opened up so many doors for Latinas. I can’t remember a single thing about her vocals or presentation. But who could forget the visual of Stephanie groping desperately from a hug-pile with her parents on the floor in an attempt to embrace J. Lo? Well, probably a lot of people. I don’t really see why they’d go for this one.

Keith: “The singing for me needs some work, but it’s not just a singing show.” Harry: “I think your voice needs some time to develop.” Jennifer: “There’s something emotionally lacking to me.” In conclusion…. ?!

Oh, a straw hat and a white sundress. That’s pleasant. Morgan Deplitch, 15, is another weak yes. She attempts a very yelly and breathless rendition of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “Paris (Ooh La La)” — deemed age-inappropriate by Harry Connick Jr., who didn’t wanna hear a 15-year-old “singing about shaving me smooth.” Sorry, but LOL at this because it truly only sounds even remotely dirty now that he’s repeating it like that. “You’re such a dad!” J. Lo whines, then realizes she should probably save face. “I mean, I’m a mom.” Never forget.

Harry Connick Jr.’s proclamation that line cook and R. Kelly-Michael Jackson-Luther Vandross wannabe James Earl was “the coolest frickin’ guy I’ve ever seen in my life is sarcastic, right? Harry Connick Jr. has such a highly evolved way of maneuvering about this world. “I want him to open my show. Just telling those little jokes? That’s hysterical.” It’s not. He knows it’s not! He’s a genius.

“What’s pentatonics?” UH OH. With that simple, begging-by-viewers-to-be-answered question about a musical term, we launch into the J. Lo, Take the Wheel portion of the show, which could last the rest of the season. As Harry explains following Jacquelina Verna’s audition, he’s not as taken by the smoke and mirrors of pentatonics as Keith and Jennifer are. J. Lo has not a clue what he’s talking about, so he begins to explain. “What’s wrong with challenging America? Pentatonics are the classic go-to for R&B singers — the five notes everybody does the runs on…” AND SHE CUTS HIM OFF! “You know too damn much,” she announces, bravely protecting America from new intelligence. Um, hello? I wanted to hear the rest of that!

NEXT: Don’t look now, but it’s two X Factor contestants Austin Percario, 17, may be another familiar face — he was shoehorned into the 10-member kids group InTENsity on The X Factor season 1. He tries Sia’s “Titanium” and earns a comparison to “Justin Bieber at 5 a.m.” from Keith Urban. Is that… good? I say no, but the judges say YES! The whole thing with Austin’s “stage mom” is deeply unsettling until you realize they’d obviously scripted it in from the start. (“If I do go to Hollywood Week it will be without my mom”… “BRING HER IN!” Just, no.) Harry raises his hand and asks for a mop after they leave, joking that Austin’s stage mom had just peed. Kids love pee jokes. Hey kids, are you watching this season of American Idol?

“I’m going to Hollywood without my mom!” Austin screams into the camera. He is not going to Hollywood without his mom. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

Looks like Austin and Jillian uploaded a joint cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” to YouTube, here.

Kaitlyn Jackson, 15, moves on more for her ingenuity and bright-eyed wholesomeness than incredible vocals, but I like her. She sings an original, “Another Angel,” written after her grandfather had suffered a heart attack at the county fair, then passed away shortly thereafter. The song’s almost too literal after she’s just finished telling that story, but hey, she’s 15. “If you can write a song like that and be inspired by that and need to write about that and you’re 15……” says Keith, who loves to build something up and just let it sit there. “You mentioned your grandpa had never heard it,” says Harry. “I disagree.” Oh God. I’m crying! First cry of the season! J. Lo tears up as she holds out Kaitlyn’s ticket. “She’s smart, and she has a heart,” she gulps.

Keith London, 21: Oh hell yes. A “handyman.” Production furiously licks its lips; they can work with this. I like this guy, a street-singer from Pennsylvania who names “lifting things for the elderly” as one of his regular odd jobs. He strikes me as a genuine person and not a reality TV product, which is rare. Keith’s acoustic guitar cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar” effectively shows the judges who he really was as an artist, as Keith Urban says. J. Lo didn’t even like that song before now! But Harry resonates as the voice of reason yet again — he likes Keith, but admit, “I don’t think you’re a good enough singer.”

But, if his fellow judges were feeling something, Harry acquiesced, “that says a lot about the type of stars this show brings.” Oh no! It’s only the premiere, and already he’s compromising his musical integrity. “I was kind of alright with it, but I guess that’s what makes it what it is…” he trails off. “That’s entertainment.” Ahhhh! Nooo! We have lost Harry Connick Jr. at the same time we have gained a go-with-the-mediocre-flow reality TV judge. I’m obviously over-dramatizing this, but I really would prefer more Tell It Like It Is Harry Connick instead of more Existential Crisis Jr. throughout the season.

A totally uncalled for offensive run — through a ballroom full of empty chairs — that ends in a limp = why I will never stop loving Ryan Seacrest. Touchdown, indeed, Ryan. You get all the touchdowns, you goofy little weirdo.

YES.

Shanon Wilson, 24, has prompted Seacrest’s football injury. The sweet, huge former defensive tackle from Houston is the first contestant I’m truly excited about tonight with his piercing-in-a-good-way rendition of Luke James’ “I Want You.” That falsetto is insane, so on-point the judges didn’t even need to critique him at all. J. Lo started waving that golden ticket above her head before he even finished. “What, man, no key change?” joked Keith. Oh, I’m sure Shanon can do that, too.

NEXT: Ryan Seacrest hoists a cowboy Whew! We have not lost Harry Connick Jr., not yet. He issues New England Patriots cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli, 22, another of his revered standards, “I don’t think you’re a good enough singer. No.” But he’s no match for J. Lo, who thinks Stephanie had “more soul than I expected” on “Paris (Ooh La La)” — “I will slap you on national television,” she warns the legit musician with a valid opinion to her left. Keith Urban eventually slides over from the top of the fence to J. Lo’s astro turf pasture. Ehhh. I’m with Harry. Keith and J. Lo somehow got “gravelly voiced cheerleader with potential” from that, but all I got was “chain smoker.”

I enjoyed this poor, unfortunate soul, who answered “How’d it go in there?” with a simple glare and “It sucked.”

Savion Wright, 21, is in a class by himself on tonight’s premiere, and you might even be able to base that ALONE on the fact that he hasn’t auditioned in previous years because he didn’t think he was ready as an artist. Whaaaat? Youths with restraint still exist? Arrest this alien! Seriously, though, what a dream contestant. Can we give a medal to his mom for gifting him a guitar after he was diagnosed with ADHD?

Savion performs an acoustic original full of all the stuff the cool, introspective kids are into these days — “hiding in fear of what I really am…” “…I’m afraid to believe the dark side of me…I’m afraid you will leave both sides of me.” Yet he’s grinning the whole time and the rhythm is upbeat! I’m fascinated. Maybe I’m too easy and pawn-like, but whatever. I’m into the guy. And this is weird, but my favorite part of his segment was when Harry good-naturedly joked that he was Chris Issak, and Savion nearly died laughing. He knew who that was, too!

“What kind of mind does it take to say ‘I’m gonna wait, I’m not good enough'”? wonders Harry. Ooh, I’ve got goosies. First of the season!

Power Chord #2: Terrica Curry, 20, who has two moms, Justin Fira, 24, a Corpus Christi valet parker, and Shelby Comey, 15, from Mason, Texas, who earned a “Miranda Lambert when she was 15” comparison from J. Lo. But in this case, I must admit I’m glad they skimped on the performance footage so that there could be enough time for…..

RYAN SEACREST PICKING UP SHELBY’S COWBOY DAD.

For no reason!

None at all.

Yeah, this should end well.

It’s been really graceful so far.

“Pleasure doing business with you, sir.”

The end.

Seriously some of Ryan’s best work.

Do you like how I keep refusing to learn gifs?

NEXT: Bring that baby in here — J. Lo is hungry Back to reality: J. Lo annoys the hell out of me during hairdresser Madelyn Patterson, 22’s critique as she just gives away the golden ticket following an “Up to the Mountain” cover full of runs. Ugh! You are no Head Judge Len Goodman, lady. At least let everyone speak before you make an executive decision.

Harry: “Some people on this panel are very easily impressed by licks and runs, and, well…” [J. Lo gives away ticket] … “Don’t listen to me! I was gonna give you some advice.” Agh!

Okay, perhaps this girl will surprise us all, but she wasn’t that impressive just now and frankly, if you’ve waited hours, days, years to stand in front of these people and sing…. I just think it says a lot about a contestant’s caliber if she doesn’t hear that and immediately lunge at the chance for more feedback. It’s just sad. She’s made it to Hollywood now, so this part is over and she can count it as a “win.” That’s not healthy! And we’re back to Existential Crisis Jr., who gives up and softly mutters, “You will hear [the advice] in Hollywood. Congratulations.” He’s been licked.

But the virtual sucker punch wasn’t enough! “I will punch you in the stomach,” J. Lo playfully promises.

But why get your kicks punching a handsome grown man in the stomach when you can eat an adorable baby’s leg? On to the next: Jordan Grizzard, 27, a youth pastor from Dallas, earns a standing ovation from Keith and Jennifer, plus “the first time Harry’s smiled in an audition” following his cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” You wanna know why he smiled? J. Lo doesn’t, but you never know, the contestant just might. “You went right down the minor scale. People don’t do that a lot.” This was actually my favorite part of Jordan’s audition, too. But would everyone just shut up about music? The Bronx Steamroller’s dinner has arrived and her name is Jocelyn, four months old.

Power Chord #3: Viviana Villalon, 19 (Maroon 5 on the ukelele), Savannah Young, 17 (acoustic guitar on “Toxic”), and Ben Boone, 22, who gave J. Lo her official first goosies of the season with his cover of “Too Close.” No other comments for this lonely chord. Savannah is a white-blonde teenage lifeguard. I doubt that’s the last we’ll see of her.

Arkansas deli grocer Malcolm Allen, 21, is music. His tattoo says “I am music,” and that’s permanent ink, so shut up. His rendition of “Superstition” sounds “so natural I could throw a pen at you,” says J. Lo, currently out of pens. This guy seems a bit overconfident for me, but he’s probably just nervous. The tone of his voice is beautiful and different, and that should really be all that matters during these auditions.

J. Lo shatters the illusion that she always tells the truth with this quick quip: “Finally, when they put that camera in my face, I can say ‘It was greeeeeeeat. Yeah, it was awesome.”

After a pretty effing funny “WHO DAT?” segment about how no one knows who Tony Connick Jr. is (“He’s white, but he sounds black,” a mother helpfully informs her son), Sugar Land, Texas-via-Pakistan contestant Munfarid Zaidi, 19, takes the stage. He reads Harry’s Wikipedia page every night before going to sleep (?!), and appropriately sings Adele’s “Crazy For You.” His voice is okay; I’m more struck by his cool sense of rhythm. To be honest I’m still reeling about the Wikipedia every night thing.

Anyway, Harry gets up and just cradles this kid and won’t let go. It’s so delightfully bizarre that I have no choice but to love it. I mean, WHAT? “Why was he cradling you?” wonders a jealous Seacrest. Munfarid Zaidi stared off thoughtfully for a second.

“Because I love him.”

Munfarid Zaidi, you are certainly not alone. What about you, readers? Are you in for season 13?

Discuss!

‘American Idol’ premiere: Harry Connick Jr. is delicious

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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