The reviews for the debut of the Simon Cowell-less “American Idol” are in — and like the audition road show that precedes it, they’re all over the map.
It was hard to find a television critic who absolutely loved Season 10’s first episode — except for Linda Stasi of the New York Post (which, like Fox, is owned by News Corp.) who said “last night's made-over ‘Idol’ was so good, I may never go out again.”
One thing critics do seem to agree on: Steven Tyler is a promising addition to the judges’ table, while J. Lo needs to “toughen up.”
Below, a selection of “Idol” reviews from last night:
Worried that "American Idol" would be unrecognizable after some major revamping (new judges, new age limits, new in-house mentor who really runs the show, etc.) that took place over the last year? Good news! Nothing's changed. Same dramatic music, same talk about making people's dreams come true, same sob stories with predictable tickets to Hollywood. It's comforting, or it's a snoozefest — take your pick. Of course, we've all known for months the slots are filled with singer/actress/former "In Living Color" dancer Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler, so the slow-motion intros are unnecessary. Randy Jackson, the only surviving judge from seasons past, pipes up to say he's happy to share the spotlight with two industry icons. Or, you know, still be gainfully employed.
Fox hopes the numbers will back up the hype, but I’m thinking they can rest easy knowing they have a new star on their hands: Tyler. … The 62-year-old legend with the scrappy hair and big voice who likes to sing along with the contestants — good or bad — is a hit. His greatest accomplishment: making us forget for a minute that the season 9 foursome including Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi ever existed, but at the same time, reminding us that Idol is at its absolute best when it’s unscripted, unpredictable and unscrupulous.
The scripted "American Idol" logo is the same. The familiar techno theme song hasn't changed. Ryan Seacrest is as upbeat as ever. And the red Coca-Cola cups are perched on the judges' table. It looks like the same show, and it sounds like the same show. But it's really not the same show. It just doesn't have the same feel with Simon Cowell gone. … Maybe I'm too much of a traditionalist. Or maybe I'm just a typical fan of one of the most popular TV shows in the nation. It's only one day into Season 10 of “American Idol” and I'm already missing Simon Cowell. His snarky British accent. His brutally honest critiques. His occasional sparring with the other judges. And I’m already a little bored with Jennifer Lopez. She looks great, but she’s too much of a softie. She’s trying too hard to replicate the overly sympathetic, motherly ways of Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi. She needs to toughen up.
“American Idol” is supposed to allow young people to live their wildest dreams. The show’s 10th season, which began Wednesday on Fox with new judges, looked more like an older woman’s fantasy – a Nancy Meyers movie about the revenge of the scorned first wife. … The introduction of the new stars, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, was labored, long and almost painfully lighthearted, like a divorced husband awkwardly presenting the new wife to his grown but unforgiving children. And all the while, over on CBS, Paula Abdul, who was replaced as an “Idol” judge last season by Ellen DeGeneres, shimmered, preened and gloated on her own reality contest, “Live to Dance.”
"American Idol" finally brought in a couple of pros. Whether or not new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will be able to find and foster an actual pop star or generate the love/hate buzz of their predecessors remains to be seen. But moments into Wednesday night’s season premiere, it was gratifyingly clear that for the first time in a long time the fumblings and flailings of contestants fighting to find their feet on stage will not be mirrored by the judges table. … Not only are they great to look at, Lopez and Tyler are long-time stars who have nothing to gain, or lose, by being part of "American Idol." And after the bipolar antics of last year's woefully mismatched panel — including a zombified Ellen DeGeneres and a manically flirtatious Kara DioGuardi — their natural confidence in front of the camera was such a blessed relief that it was hard to miss even the bracing ballistics of Simon Cowell.
What if they gave a talent contest and nobody judged? Anyone interested in finding out could have tuned into Wednesday night's season debut of "American Idol." The first time new gatekeeper Jennifer Lopez had to face the essential task of delivering less than sunny news, she threw up her hands and cried, "This is awful. I can't do this." Even if a contestant had the voice of a deaf yak, she would simply look away, or default to a "deer-in-the-headlights" stare. When called on to deal with a similar unfortunate situation, fellow newbie Steven Tyler would fashion a pre-set look of empathy and offer a canned suggest the kid plow a less daunting path. Compared to these two, Ellen acted like a sadistic maniac.
What would Simon Cowell say? This is the question destined to hover over the 10th season of "American Idol" — the first without the acerbic Brit passing his trademark judgments on the parade of wannabe pop stars. And hover it did during Wednesday night's Cowell-less kickoff on Fox, as first-time judges Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler seemed to split the loopy-nice, nutty-sincere Paula Abdul personality in half, while chief dawg judge Randy Jackson tried gamely to register the horror and the pity the usually baroquely scary audition rounds demand. One thing seemed certain: The high note of Season 10 has already been sung, repeatedly, by the 63-year-old Tyler himself, who seemed to let loose his finest hard- rock, quivering falsetto, extended high note whenever all else failed.
Without Cowell on the panel — and with Jackson taking the role of senior judge — the critiques overall lacked teeth. If anyone used the words "horrific" or "bloody awful" to describe a contestant, or even remotely offended them, it was left on the cutting room floor. Jackson clung to the same punchlines he and Cowell used for years, sounding ever more like the broken records he speaks of, while Lopez and Tyler tried new "Idol"-isms on for size. "It's a singing competition first, and that girl can blow!" Jackson said of 21-year-old waitress Devyn Rush, the night's best audition, but he could have been describing anyone.
Conventional wisdom also used to be that viewers loved the "American Idol" audition episodes because they loved to see the freaks and to hear Simon Cowell's pithy eviscerations. Time to put that notion to the test.
"American Idol" wanted to convince us that everything was new and fresh for its 10th season premiere Wednesday night, but, truth be told, it felt like the early episodes of the ninth season and the eighth and the fifth: some heartwarming stories backed by varying degrees of talent, some obvious scammers happy to be atrocious enough to land on TV, and some judges struggling to strike a balance between "likable to the audience" and "truthful to the hopefuls." Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson … did not, in the end, matter that much, especially in the formulaic early rounds, which reduce a sports-stadium cattle call to a relative few auditions.
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 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.
Last night's made-over "Idol" was so good, I may never go out again. OK, admittedly I/we/they all had great misgivings about the two new judges who were going to replace the irreplaceable Paula and irascible Simon. I mean, let's be honest here. The last two newest judges, Kara and Ellen, together didn't add up to one Paula. They were like entertainment Ambien. … Of course, fans thought that when the producers broke what wasn't broken, it could never be repaired. Wrong. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are not and will never be Paula and Simon. They didn't do the brother/sister love/hate thing — and didn't try to. And that was great. They did something completely different. They were themselves — two superstars fully engaged and absorbed. And not with themselves, but with the contestants. Perfect.