|Guest judge Victoria Beckham made her way into the State Street studio in August for auditions for last night’s season-opener of “American Idol.’’ (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe/File)|
A Boston look, but it’s same old song
Last night’s “American Idol’’ season premiere was notable for three reasons: 1) It was set in Boston, where a series of lone dreamers stood singing to both a panel of judges and the unforthcoming stare of the Custom House Tower in the background. 2) It was the start of the first season without our crazy love bucket Paula Abdul and her emotional overspill, a fact that was duly noted a few moments into the two-hour episode.
And 3) not a single word was uttered about the fact that Simon Cowell, the show’s biggest asset, the one judge everyone actually listens to, the Brit whose tart personality has almost single-handedly made “American Idol’’ into such a massive phenomenon, is leaving the show at the end of the season. The information was conspicuous in its absence, and you can bet it will go unmentioned once again tonight, during the two-hour Atlanta auditions. Surely “Idol’’ is going to continue to underplay its own impending doom.
Otherwise, the show returned with more of its brisk, familiar audition material. Even Boston turned out to be a showcase for a few stunt players and poor deluded souls who think they can sing, as the night was peppered with painful performances. An anime lover from Walpole screeching Janis Joplin, a waitress from Billerica mangling Mariah Carey, a bouncy accountant from Somerville twisting up Natasha Bedingfield - they all got tossed out of the room with a little less self-esteem.
But there were plenty of success stories, as always, with Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and elfin guest judge Victoria Beckham continually reaching for new language to express just how wowed they were. (Ellen DeGeneres will begin her stint as a regular judge next month.) And many of the good singers who got through to Hollywood came with the kind of poignant backstories that “Idol’’ so loves to tell.
Maddy Curtis from Virginia, a 16-year-old with major dimples and a major voice, is the devoted sister of brothers with Down syndrome. Katie Stevens from Connecticut, another knockout 16-year-old singer, shared her tears about her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease. And Justin Williams, 27, from Utah, described his journey through cancer before blowing away the judges with “Feeling Good.’’ Ryan Seacrest walked us through with his usual, seemingly endless enthusiasm.
Ultimately, the unsung heroes of the many, many weeks of “Idol’’ auditions are the editors. Until the show moves to Hollywood and live segments begin to dominate, these episodes are pieced together with remarkable and tireless invention. They are filled with perky little sequences that mesh together different auditions, and they deliver all kinds of comic and tragic miniatures. The editing, like the judges panel, has an abundance of personality.