American Idol Premiere: Season 11 – Savannah, Georgia

Every year that the juggernaut American Idol lumbers along is an annual reminder of just how old you’re getting. It’s sobering to listen to the contestants in the opening montage talk about watching the show their entire lives without a hint of hyperbole. Yet, here we are again, sifting through the masses for that glint of something valuable. The two-hour season premiere of American Idol took place in Savannah, GA.

The production value of this year’s AI appears to have a little more polish this year, ranging from the snazzier intro to the craftier editing. The audition stage also had a nice update to it, with high beam blue panels everywhere depicting victors of years past. The show also seems to have a purposefully positive tone, with longer segments devoted to successes and less time set aside for train wrecks – but even those aren’t so bad. Unfortunately. Lack of schadenfreude notwithstanding, hope seemed to be the theme of the day.

“You always have high hopes that today’s the day we find the one,” Jennifer Lopez said on her way to the taping, “You never know.” The first day was chock-full of singers who were sent through to Hollywood – and it was still early in the day. Such lucky contestants were David Leathers, Jr. who was the 17-year-old who looked like he was 12. In this early group, it was mostly young teens who were going through. Breaking the streak, however, was Jessica Whitely who butchered her audition so badly that Randy Jackson’s face contorted into naked disgust. As revenge, Whitely vowed to audition again in Texas.

On that note, it bears repeating that the editing is excellent this year, including the teasers before commercial breaks. The dearth of spectacles made the constant preview of a yelling contestant something to look forward to, but at one point I literally yelled at my TV, “Give me the screaming guy already!” When Joshua Chavis was finally showcased, his segment was a bit anticlimactic. It was hard not to feel for the guy regardless of how bad his audition was, because it was obvious that his friends didn’t believe in him either when he returned to them without a golden ticket.

Another notable rejection was Shawn Kraisman who showed up dressed in a black suit and tie and a hip coif. Ryan Seacrest and he joked back and forth about how Kraisman could host the show, and, truthfully, his presenter voice was pretty good. His singing voice was subpar and he rightfully didn’t make it through, but expect to see him in the finale as one of the gags.

There were a few questionable choices for letting through, like Stephanie Renee whose closed-mouth singing hindered her performance. The Dixon siblings Schuyler and Colton were also let through in dramatic fashion even if their performances sounded subpar, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s purely for drama and narrative-building later on. Oh, won’t it be delicious to see them get split up later on?

On the other hand, the featured contestants do have pretty good stories, like Amy Brumfield who is unemployed and lives in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend. Then there’s W. T. Thompson who quit his day job to chase this dream in spite of having a six-month pregnant wife. There’s something inspiring about a person who will throw caution to the wind to make their dreams come true. There’s also something maddening about a person who will do the same, but risk the well-being of others in the process. Good luck finding a job that can support your family in this economy after you get booted buddy!

Rounding out the usual suspects that make through was Brittany Kerr, professional NBA dancer. This woman is an amazing physical specimen whose looks alone should get her into public voting rounds. Not sure if her vocal talents will carry her much farther, but it’ll be nice to have bona fide sex appeal on American Idol for as long as it lasts.

Saving the best audition for last, Phillip Phillips ended the episode with undeniably awesome performances. First was a soulful Superstitious by Stevie Wonder followed by a guitar rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. While he was excellent, his mannerisms were uncomfortably close to former Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Is he ready to overcome the comparison and hopefully outshine Hicks’ lackluster career? “I was born naked and ready,” Phillips says, “I just put clothes on.”