American Idol is back, despite having a very overwrought goodbye just a couple of years ago.
But we live in the time of reboots, and if there’s anything that is truly American at this time in media, it’s to let something barely take its last breath before resuscitating it. This is American Idol!
So, we open on the voice of Carrie Underwood, because thank God we can still depend on her. She introduces us to the concept of what American Idol is and why it’s important, and then we completely gloss over Ryan Seacrest for a little bit because yeah. That leads us to our new panel of judges: Lionel Richie, “All Night Long” singer and father to great character actress Nicole, leads the panel of three. To his left is Katy Perry, America’s Teenage Dream and also purveyor of internet teen slang. And to her left is Luke Bryan, who is likely on a dirt road at this very moment. But American Idol isn’t about these three! It’s about finding the next great American singer, like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or Crystal Bowersox. Okay, two out of three is not bad.
We start off auditions in New York. First up is Caty Turner, who is a self-proclaimed strange girl. She is a lot of energy. Caty decides to sing her own song, called “21st Century Machine,” which is historically a TERRIBLE decision. But after a rough start, she’s actually really good, and the song is legitimately worth a listen. Luke Bryan says yes, tentatively, as long as she agrees not to read what anyone says about her. But here’s the thing, Caty, if you’re reading. You are a strange bird. And sometimes that’s exactly what makes a good songwriter. So do your weird thing, girl.
Ron Bultongez shows up next, and he’s got quite a story: He’s an American immigrant from the Congo and is also the survivor of an abusive home. Luke Bryan says Ron is what this country represents, which is honestly a stunner to me; good for Luke. Ron sings James Bay’s “Let It Go” and gets a yes from Luke but a no from Katy. It comes to Lionel, and he says no, too. Sorry Ron. But then Luke says he should have fought harder for him, and Lionel agrees because THIS IS AMERICA, LAND OF OPPORTUNITY. AT LEAST ON ABC.
Maddie Roppe sings “Rainbow Connection” and gives some low-key Brandi Carlile vibes — and she gets through, too. And then there’s Koby, who shows up with some crazy pants and a musical theater background. She’s also singing an original song, but it doesn’t feel as hopeful as Caty’s. The whole thing feels like Rachel Berry exploded. When Katy tries to tell her it’s not working, Koby just disagrees entirely.
After Koby, we head down to Nashville, where we relive a total disaster from six years ago. Harper Grace completely botched the national anthem and went viral for how terrible it was. But instead of giving up, she’s heading to Idol. My anxiety is palpable. She decides to sing an original song because these kids are trying to kill me. Turns out, she’s not terrible anymore. She follows up that with a song by Khalid, and you know what? Good for Harper Grace. She’s going to Hollywood.
Following Harper is Layla Spring, who’s here with her adorable sister, Dyxie. Yes, Dyxie with a Y. Dyxie performs “Blue,” even though she is an actual infant, and all of the judges vote yes and offer her a ticket for 2026. This is going to be TERRIBLE if Layla doesn’t make it. Layla chooses “Who’s Lovin’ You?” by the Jackson 5. She’s clearly not the best singer in the world, but she’s not bad. It leaves the judges hung a bit, but the vote comes down in her favor. Layla is going to Hollywood.
Benjamin Glaze is up next. He’s a cashier because that is how he thinks he can pick up girls. When he says he’s never kissed a girl (because you have to be in a relationship), Katy demands he kiss her on the cheek, and then she steals his first kiss! He’s so verklempt. And it shows during his audition, which is why all three judges say no. But he got a kiss from Katy Perry, and he tells his mom, and she gives him a high five. And that’s straight culture.
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Following Benny’s unsuccessful run is a hungover rocker named Nico Bones. He’s singing a song called “Worms.” It goes over as well as you’d expect. Following him is Nico’s complete antithesis: the “wig” child who’s been making rounds on the internet. Before repeating “wig” one more time, Noah Davis heads to the piano to belt a beautiful rendition of Rihanna’s “Stay” because stereotypes are both real and wonderful and sometimes absolutely worth adhering to. Luke Bryan makes a comment that he blushes around Katy Perry, which is hilarious, but the truest compliment is when Katy walks up to him, leans forward, and says it once more: “Wig.” Noah is heading to Hollywood.
Next up is Alyssa Raghu, who is handily the standout of the night so far. Where each contestant before feels like they might be trying out for American Idol, Alyssa sounds like she’s won it already. Her dad, who is her best friend, is so jazzed to find out she’s going to Hollywood, and let’s be honest, guys. That’s the best part of this whole show. People should always be allowed to follow their dreams, you know?!
Sometimes twice! The 2015 winner of Russia’s X-Factor has shown up to audition because that makes sense in the year of our Lord 2018. Sardor Milano just launches into a whole bunch of noises. The notes are all there, but it’s literally just like 19 different songs, and if this is ABC’s way of saying they haven’t been bought by the Russians, then I guess I have an increased confidence in American security? Good for America. Sad for Sardor.
Zach D’Onofrio shows up next with socks for each of the judges because that’s his shtick, ya know? The sock guy. He sings “The Way You Look Tonight” about two octaves lower than I expected. It’s a very serviceable performance, and then the judges all join him in dancing because this is the end of a two-hour venture and we’re all doing our best. But you know what? The more Zach sings, the better he gets. Turns out, they all love him, and he goes to Hollywood.
As the night closes, we’re introduced to Dennis Lorenzo from West Philadelphia. His dad was murdered when Dennis was 5, but after taking a few wrong turns along the way, he’s now a father and wants to be there for his daughter in a way his dad wasn’t allowed to be. He sings “Unaware” by Alex Jones, which is what previous winner Trent Harmon auditioned with. It bodes well for him, because with three yes votes, Dennis moves forward.
So, that’s the newly revamped American Idol. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it doesn’t have to because if the talent is good, that’s all the reinvention that you need. All that it asks of you is that you tune in and judge for yourself. How do you know when you see brilliance? Well, wig.