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American Idol's 8th Season Premiere

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For all the hype about this being the new "improved" American Idol, it was the same. Okay, there's a new judge. More on that later. But speaking of morons, Paula was back. When long running shows in later seasons try to shake things up they REPLACE characters, not add new ones. Charles Winchester for Frank Burns. Rebecca Howe for Diane Chambers. Darren Stevens for Darren Stevens. With the addition of another judge with a brain Paula is now officially as useless as cuff links on pants.

But otherwise, the only thing new for the entire two hours was the Ford commercials. There were the same 100,000 idiots, this time baking for hours in 110 degree temperatures in Phoenix. I suppose someone should have warned them of the possibility of brain damage but really, why? They're sooo far past that.

The show kicks off with a gooey cloying montage, in slow motion, accompanied by the now-cliché song of all time, "Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong (who wouldn't make it out of the opening round, by the way).

We're told by an earnest contestant that American Idol "can make a difference. For one's family. For one's future." Who needs alternative energy when we have American Idol?

We're introduced to the new judge, Kara DioGuardi. Too early to tell whether she's a breath of fresh air or Shemp. But she seems smart (or maybe it's because she sits between Randy and Paula -- Eddie from Fraiser would seem smart), she can sing, and of course she's attractive (this is FOX, where Chloe on 24 is considered disfigured). American Idol's in-depth profile on Kara was a three-minute montage of people mispronouncing her name. Thank you. I really feel like I know her now.

Okay, enough stalling. Let the freak show begin! Included in this initial roundup:

A guy with a giant 'fro. David Archelleta meets Diana Ross.

A tattooed rocker chick with pink/orange hair and tasteful stud in his lip. Drew Barrymore as the Exorcist.

An Axel Rose lookalike who weeps more than Hilary Duff and Ashley Judd combined. There is no crying in head banging heavy metal!

The obligatory "goody-goody" girl-next-door who volunteers at senior centers and vows to stay a virgin until Adam Levine is the guest mentor.

The Hispanic kid who calls himself X-Ray. Everyone else calls him Ex-Straight.

This was a new one - an African American kid with a voice deeper than a fog horn. Poor song selection though: "My First, My Last, My Everything" instead of "Old Man River." Not that he could sing that either but it would have been more amusing.

Here's an American Idol empirical truth: Anyone who wears a hat sucks.

Simon of course put through the insufferable perky girl with marginal talent. She's the blind date that's very pretty and the nanosecond after you have sex you want to kill yourself.

The Kellie Pickler fresh-faced blond country gal who got four yes votes and six invitations to join dinner theater productions of Lil' Abner.

The weird Goth boy who looks like the creepy son on Nip/Tuck. Perfect if there's ever a remake of Harold & Maude.

The callow rosy cheeked nerd who by April will be dressing like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

And my favorite, a hot girl in a bikini. (Thank God, Moesha didn't go this route.) We're just one season away from a hopeful coming into the audition room on her knees.

I was starting to get worried. There were no trailer trash sob stories. No contestants living in Maytag boxes. No daddies serving 20-life. No one put their child up for adoption so they'd have the money to come to the tryout. The "I survived cancer" girl didn't even make it on camera. Was American Idol losing its edge? Ah, but then came the last contestant - a blind guy. Yeah, good luck voting him out.

So far your final two are bikini girl and blind guy. Unless Kansas City has a stripper who sings out of her navel, why even bother?

The show concluded with the standard montage of tone-deaf deluded losers, a segment I like to call "Let's laugh at the truly pathetic." Nice touch ending with the Hasidic cowboy.

Overall the talent level was the same as always. Two or three really good ones (oil rig boy in particular), a few who can carry a tune but you know will be eliminated so fast their luggage will not have arrived at the carousel, and the groan-inducing misfits who get interviewed later, boldly claim "You haven't heard the last of me! I'm going to be a star without American Idol!", and spend the rest of their lives working the back sink at Shoney's.

American Idol has a problem. Even for fans like me who at one time really loved it. There is a sameness now. Throwing in Kara (or is it pronounced "Care-a"?) won't solve that. For the show, and pretty soon Ryan, it's really time for a face lift.

Tonight is another two hour special. For my review just re-read this one.

You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com