There is only one way to put it: “American Idol” is ten-years-old and despite lowering the age of contestants to 15, the show has finally grown up.

After watching the first round of auditions- from New Jersey- it was good to see that there appears to be some form of “level footing”.

There is nothing wrong with being “nice” and this “prerequisite” on reality shows to have one “nasty judge” has become boring and expected. It’s like knowing a Diane Warren ballad as the choruses are always bombastic and expected and one can hear Michael Bolton/Celine Dion/Cher murdering them.

As for the new judging panel, some might say that they are “too soft”, but that’s bollocks. Judging talent need not be a show within a show and which is what “American Idol” had become: The judges were more important to viewers than the contestants and which is probably why the show has thrown up so many mediocre singers.

Come on, Taylor Hicks? Katherine McPhee? Fantasia? Jordin Sparks? Lee DeWyze? Each one, tres ordinaire and damn lucky to get recording deals and be able to tour on the back of their television success.

During this season opener- and there’s a lot more of the show to go- no one was talking down to a buncha kids in a condescending manner. Plus, despite the new “star quality” of the judging panel, the focus- and importance- has, thankfully- moved from trying to replicate what has come before to the contestants and their talent.

Do we really want the “new Paula” and the “new Simon Cowell” even though we still have the “old Randy Jackson”?

Those who are thinking of the once overpaid and over-rated judges panel have lost the plot: They have failed to grasp the very basics of what is a mainstream television talent/singing competition in a music world where the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Gaga rein supreme- and with a focus on youth. It’s nothing personal, it’s a business that needs to also be entertaining.

This 2011 version of “Idol” does not look nor sound like “Father Knows Best” and “Happy Days” anymore and with Simon Cowell trying to be The Fonz. Or Darth Vader.

What there are as “judges”, mentors, advisers are legitimate stars. And seeing the reactions from the contestants, they seem to appreciate the advice given. It’s not like in the past when some contestants stood there and thought, “Do these three goons  really know what the hell they want- and will their advice make me successful?”

This season, there is no washed up choreographer who made the occasional record and, which say some, also included other voices “standing in for her” babble on in front of camera. To some, this was “good television”. Sorry, Paula Abdul’s antics became the punchline to jokes and without “Idol” she has gone back to obscurity.

There is no fortysomething pop songwriter writing teen angst songs built around one line and which is then set in “repetitive mode”, no TV talk show who was brought in for her one liners and there is no Simon Cowell.

Like his soundalike, “Caribou” Palin, his time has come and gone and, on reflection, one has to wonder  if Master Cowell ever really listened to the contestants or simply recited his his barbs as they were part of the script?

And was his judging based purely on ‘looks’, or did he keep reminding himself that he was only playing a role created for him over ten years ago by “Idol” producer Nigel Lithgoe and that this was “only a television talent show” for, largely, a Middle American white audience and which tempered- and tampered with- his thinking.

Sure, Jennifer Lopez aka “Jenny from the Block” aka J-Lo is hardly the world’s greatest singer and, apart from “Out Of Sight”,  has not exactly made ground-breaking movies. But she is still a full-blown star. And she is stunning.

Everything about her says Star, she is likable, her laugh is infectious, she is stunning- have I mentioned that before?- she seems to have huge balls -business and temper-wise- and having once dated Diddy or Puffy or whatever he calls himself today and being married to Marc Antony, well, lotsa music must have rubbed off on her.

Steve Tyler? His face might look like some crumpled road map, but he has seen and heard enough of music to know who has what and why.

As for Randy Jackson, he is more than a “one-trick Yo Yo Yo dawg” and the “Uncle Tom” of the panel. The man played bass for Journey- yes, a black man in an all-white Rock band- and has produced and worked with just about everyone. He knows his shit. Is he “television judge” material? Yes, maybe and who cares? Listen to the contestants. It’s their show.

Keeping it all ticking over and prepared to play the “link” between all the madness  is host Ryan Seacrest.

I’ve said this before: Ryan Seacrest is not “just an emcee”. He is the glue that holds the show together. As always, he brings it back to what the show is all about: Finding the very best talent though last year, it all got horribly lost in translation and blurred in transition.

And judging by the first peak at what is to come over the next few months- along with the arrival of Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine and his posse of in-house and bona fide mentors- the very young talent pool this year is going to make all of last Season’s winners and grinners and minor league players look and sound irrelevant and so, well, 2010.

Universal Music, the show’s new music partner does not sign up karaoke singers, so, even of the judges might pick and pan, the music company will decide who gets to become recording artists .

Lee DeWyze, the winner from Season 9 has released his single and album and the results are hardly over-whelming. It would be fair to say that his record tanked and outside the coterie of hardcore “Idol” fanatics, the guy could be back mixing paint or performing in Malaysia with David Archulleta.

Also flopping- again, something which will be argued to death by the Idol Fanatics has been Crystal Bowersox and her very ordinary album. If those who followed her on television think this girl had anything new to offer, she doesn’t.

Thinking this was “the new Janis Joplin” was rubbish as Janis Joplin was great- for her time. Today, she would be a caricature and the only scary thing was Steve Tyler wanting to find “the next Janis Joplin” in 2011.

Someone show him some tapes of Miss Bowersox from last season and then go back and watch and listen to Janis Joplin. She was great for the Sixties and when she was a one of a kind Rock chick hanging with the Rock Gods.

Visit Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, South Africa and you will find dozens of better and more original versions of Crystal Bowersox- and Lee DeWyze- and Janis Joplin.

Compare the UK’s 20-year-old Clare Maguire with Crystal Bowersox and there is no comparison. Or I Blame Coco- aka Sting’s daughter- both signed to Universal.

Rumours, meanwhile, say that Alex Lambert, another contestant from Season 9 and who had a brief spurt of popularity, is said to be “homeless”. Yes, I know: Who?

As for Casey James and whom I expected much from, he now has The Casey James Band and is still in the studio carving out his masterpiece.

Has his time come and gone? Well, let’s just say, it’s been a long time coming and the momentum has gone forever.

What did he sound like way back then? Apart from the hair, was he really ever that good? No idea. It was an eternity ago. Even Black Keys seem”old” today and they have really made it.

“American Idol” was all set to go the same way as Season 9, but…Forget  everything you think you know or have come to expect from the show. It is Change, but without a whole Joan Rivers and Bruce Jenner-type of face-lift- see below- that makes you barf up your cornflakes and keeps you in bed for days.

Watching him and his brood on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” has that kinda affect on me: Pure terror at the absolute shocking and gauche flaunting of a lifestyle even Robin Leach would have trouble accepting.

Back to this first peek at “American Idol”, here’s what I like: Last season and a few other seasons, having some contestants pushing thirty and the word “Idol” was an oxymoron.

Last season, some who participated seemed like refugees from MySpace- singers etc who had been kicking around for years with no success and who would be in their Thirties when their records came out- if they did- and when they could start touring with an original repertoire in the bag.

This Season, at least so far, with the age being lowered, the kids who made the biggest impression on me were between 15 and 18 years old.

What does this mean? Time. They have time on their side. Time to be truly mentored, time for managers, producers and music companies to  support them and time for them to grow.

So, some girl did a karaoke version of a Gladys Knight hit, but, she was 16. She has time on her side- and the talent.

It’s early days, but 15-year-old Kenzie Palmer is someone who stood out for me. Fifteen years old, people.And she can really sing.

Forget what the judges were saying and “keeping to the script”. They all loved this girl and I’ve been listening to her stuff on YouTube for over a year. Pizazz or pizza, she was going to Hollywood. And I bet, much further.

Behind her? Devyn Rush, the 20-year-old singing waitress, Travis Orlando and Robbie Rosen. This latter kid- another teenager- WILL make it- and big.

They are not Frankie Lymon, “Little” Stevie Wonder or a young Michael Jackson, but they have potential.

It’s a helluva good start to a new season and a helluva different show from a music business point of view.

It’s no longer a freak show and a musical zoo.

It’s more like going back to music school and us being able to watch “the process” for the next new months.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kenziepalmerfan, Hans Ebert. Hans Ebert said: KENZIE PALMER AND HOW YOUNGER "IDOL" HAS GROWN UP.: [...]

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