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'American Idol' Season 12 comes out clawing, scratching, singing

American Idol poster

Written by : published Thursday 17th January 2013

'American Idol' Season 12 comes out clawing, scratching, singing main image

Photo:  Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson at the New York auditions. (Michael Becker - Fox)


The grand-daddy of the modern singing show (that's right"  "Modern."  Not to offend any of you "Star Search" fans out there...), "American Idol" began its 12th season on Wednesday night.  Still a large part of pop culture, the show has seemed to have lost some steam in recent years as ratings have steadily been on the decline.  The carousel of judges continues this season, with only "The Dog" Randy Jackson returning to the panel (gone are Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, like you didn't already know).  Their exit has given way for three new judges:  Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj.

It wouldn't be "American Idol" without host Ryan Seacrest, who began the Season 12 two-hour premiere by looking back at Idol's legacy in the music industry.  Phillip Phillips - the winner from Season 11 - played his hit song, "Home," as Seacrest waxed poetic on all of the successful artists the show has spawned since Kelly Clarkston in Season 1.

Yes, fans of Idol are tuning in for all of the same reasons - to find new stars and role models to look up to and cheer for, to live out their fantasies of becoming famous and to poke fun and feel better about themseleves as they watch the many clueless people who have no shot whatsoever, making complete and utter fools out of themselves on national TV.

But all of that aside, let's not kid ourselves:  Most fans of Idol were tuning in to get a glimpse of the new judges on the panel.  They didn't disappoint.

Talk about big personalities.  Nicki Minaj stole most of the show last night not only with her eccentric hair and make-up, but with her larger-than-life personality.  Her ego seemed to clash almost instantly with diva Mariah Carey and the two would be at it all night.  Poor Keith Urban - sitting between the two - who just shook his head continuously throughout the night, trying not to get clawed in the cat-fight (his best line came in the preview for Thursday night's episode, when he proclaimed that he "feels like a scratching post" sitting between the two women).

As judges, all three of the newbies showed promise.  No question that Minaj will be entertaining this season, but it remains to be seen just how annoying she gets, or if her personality will start to grate away at the audience much like that of Mariah.  Early on, both Nicki and Mariah showed signs of over-sympathy towards contestants that didn't bring anything exciting to the table, but by the end of Day One they were being a bit more blunt.

Nicki, as a judge, stuck to her guns on most contestants.  Mariah as well.  Keith Urban seemed to get influenced by what the other judges were feeling, but even he came around and got a bit more confident in his opinions by the end of the episode.

Ultimately, nobody wants a repeat of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.  Both were well-liked, but they were often times way too easy...turning into completely uninteresting jokes by the competition rounds.  This is TV after all, and hearing all three judges swoon over every single contestant week in and week out doesn't make for good entertainment.  It's still too early to tell how Minaj, Carey and Urban will do, or what kind of judges they will become, but I definitely liked the initial chemistry between the new judges and the resident "dog."  Even Mariah and Nicki - by the end- admitted that they felt the judging panel had "gelled."

But enough about the judges:  What about the contestants?  The first two days (covered in the premiere episode) of auditions took place in New York City and as always, the good, the bad and the ugly were well represented.

THE GOOD

Overall, there were not any "instant" stars that were revealed, in what I found to be a pretty weak first two days of auditions.  Especially on the male side of things, where only a handful of male "yeses" were even given screen time.  Here were some to keep an eye on, in no particular order:

Tenna Torres - 28.  The first "Yes" of the season went to Tenna Torres, who as a child had attended Camp Mariah, a youth singing camp that had been sponsored by Mariah Carey.  Tenna (pronounced "Tina") even got to sing for Mariah at the camp (even though Mariah had no recollection).  Torres wasn't a whopping stand-out, but showed promise.

Christina "Isabelle" - 21.  This young lady had some powerful pipes, so what is her story?  She grew up very heavy and had lost over 50 lbs., but now was looking good.  Her performance led Nicki Minaj to say "OMG" after belting out a strong tune.

Shira Gavrielov - 23.  Shira actually had a hit single in Israel (she is of Israeli descent) but now was living in Brooklyn.  She wowed the judges with her unique-sounding voice and was perhaps one of two stand-outs from Day One.

Frankie Ford - 24.  This guy makes a living as a train singer...that's right, by singing on the subways of New York for tips.  He would be the other stand-out from Day One and was the last audition of the day, cementing himself as the best male vocal of the evening.

Sarah Restuccio - 17.  My personal favorite of the episode, Sarah had the look and the personality (not to mention the vocals) to be a future star.  She grew up with her family on a blueberry farm and seemed to be country through and through.  Her first song was strong, but it was her second song that wowed the judges and the viewing audience.  This country girl belted out a pretty awesome rendition of Nicki Minaj's "SuperBass," instantly showing her versatility and her range as a star.  Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Angela Miller - 18.  Perhaps the best overall vocal of the episode, Angela got four "yes" votes based on a very good audition.  Even more impressive, she has only limited hearing in both ears, missing a very important trait to have in this business.  But still, you wouldn't have known had you heard her sing.

Gurpreet Singh Sarin, "The Turbanator."  Of Middle-Eastern descent and wearing a color-themed turban to match his lavendar outfit, Gurpreet definitely won the award as "most memorable" through the first episode.  His breathy voice wasn't enough to win over Keith Urban, but the other judges gave him three "yes" votes to send him through to Hollywood.  Not sure if the producers of Idol had to keep turning his eyes red a la The Terminator, as that isn't exactly politically-correct imagery, but they had to try to do something, I guess, to keep the show entertaining in its second hour.

Ashlee Feliciano - 20.  Ending Day Two, we met Ashlee, raised by parents who take in "medically complex" children to care for.  She had a sweet personality and an even sweeter voice, leading the judges to bring in her whole family to hear their unanimous "yes" vote.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Audition Round wouldn't be Audition Round if it wasn't full of misfits.  None of them quite reached William Hung-level of noteriety, although you could tell that many of them were just looking for their five minutes of fame.  None moreso than Benjamin Gaisey, who wore a cheap, plastic Michael Jackson outfit but failed to impress.  Then there was Rozanna Shindleman, who had only sang for her parents previously (and had a voice that only a mother could love).  There was Brett Holt, a self-proclaimed "Idol Trivia Master" who failed to even name what season this was.  He was shown nodding off multiple times prior to his audition, which failed miserably.

Then there was James Bae, who resembled "Gangnam Style" Psy, but only a shorter, uncoordinated, less-talented version.  Evan Ruggiero had an inspiring back-story (he was a dancer and a performer, who had a prosthetic leg after losing it to cancer), but the judges didn't think he was right for the competition this year.

Most brutal of all, was the denial of Jessica Kartalis, who didn't even want to audition herself, but was nominated for an audition by her parents.  Randy Jackson and the camera crew went to her hometown and surprised her with an invitation to come audition, only to give her four "no" votes upon performing.  The judges did get it right, but what a cruel thing to do to someone.

Idol definitely has staying power and I think that they did good adding the current panel of judges.  They seem to really be fueling the whole Mariah vs. Nicki feud, but I think that will grow old soon, so I hope that the show eventually becomes more about the contestants...It always does in the end.

What were your thoughts?  Who were your favorite contestants?  What do you think of the new judges?  Post your comments below!

You can follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli, and at tomsantilli.com.

About the author SurvivorTom

SurvivorTom

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Detroit Film Critics Society.  He writes several on-line columns, most notably as the Detroit Movie Examiner and the Survivor Examiner for Examiner.com.  He also is a contributor as a Survivor-Insider to TVGeekArmy.com and writes exclusive Survivor in-depth episode analysis for TheTVKing.com. He has been featured on Rob Cesternino's "Rob Has a Podcast" and most recently landed the only exclusive Richard Hatch interview given since his latest legal trouble has surfaced. All of Tom's Survivor coverage as well as movie reviews can be found on his blog the "FilmSurvivor", at FilmSurvivor.com

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