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TELEVISION REVIEW

Tyler, Lopez show promise on ‘Idol’

New judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez (shown at an “American Idol’’ press event) made their debuts last night. New judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez (shown at an “American Idol’’ press event) made their debuts last night. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 20, 2011

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At this point, anyone who has ever watched a reality-TV talent contest knows how to talk judge talk. So it’s no big surprise that both Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were already fluent in judgese during their first appearance on “American Idol.’’ Last night, in the 10th season premiere, they were well-stocked with all the familiar lines — “You gave me goosebumps,’’ “I really felt your joy,’’ and, alas, “Try something else besides singing, sweetie.’’

And Tyler, animated, upbeat, and looking good for a 1,000 year old, brought his own twist to the lingo. He told one auditioning singer, “I think you’ve got the what-it-is,’’ and he tossed a more Yiddish-flavored compliment to another: “You can really sing your tush-ela off.’’ He also delivered a few trademark Aero-screeches for good measure. And he tried to bring a little horndog verve to his “Idol’’ persona, although noting that a 16-year-old girl is wearing her skirt with “just the right amount showing’’ was pretty uncomfortable. No amount of rock cred is going to make that fly on a family show.

While Tyler was the perky, sarcastic dude, Lopez was the gal who can’t say no. No matter how awful the performer, J.Lo found it hard to be a dream crusher, especially when the kids were dumbstruck by her star power. Will she be the new Paula Abdul, gushing over every sweet fragile contestant? As she talked about taking the “Idol’’ job to have the power to change lives, and as she looked down to avoid saying “no’’ to Hollywood, it seemed possible. But I don’t think Lopez has the nerve to be Paula-level crazy and self-parodying. We can only hope.

Time will tell whether or not the new panel will find its groove, and whether the show will lose its appeal without the brutal honesty of the great shade-thrower himself, Simon Cowell.

But Tyler, Lopez, and Randy Jackson showed some promise last night, for a few reasons. First of all, “Idol’’ works better with three judges than four. You could already feel a warm triangular bond developing between Jackson, Tyler, and Lopez. With four judges, the interpersonal dynamic is too complicated, and there are too many overlapping comments. Second, as music-biz pros, both Lopez and Tyler came off as relatively confident in their judgments. They didn’t suffer from the insecurity that Ellen DeGeneres brought to the table last season, which brought the level of the show’s discourse down further than ever.

And finally, neither Lopez nor Tyler appeared to feel above the job. They didn’t project any sense that they were better than a reality-TV competition — certainly a good idea, considering the viewership.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

AMERICAN IDOL On: WFXT (Channel 25), last night