RATINGS UPDATE: Tuesday's Idol reached 27.7 million viewers (per The Hollywood Reporter) thanks to the start of Hollywood Week and the debut of Ellen Degeneres. The numbers were higher versus last week and last year at this time. Overall, according to USA Today, the audition rounds averaged 26.2 million viewers, which is down from the last two years but still makes it the #1 show in the country. The ratings were good and so were the reviews, from a reserved LA Times to the fans online.
SHOW COVERAGE: Ellen. That was the big event of the day for me. How would Ellen Degeneres fit in? Would she get along with the other judges? As Ellen herself says, she may not be a music industry professional but she certainly knows a thing or two about entertainment. To me, she's the stand-in for the fan who watches at home and thinks they could pick a winner too. Though in interviews Ellen suggested she found Simon a bit abrasive (to the contestants), none of that was visible tonight. She joined the panel very smoothly, offering up criticisms and comments with the wry humor that comes so easily to her. We'll have to wait for some fireworks or head-butting to see how she does down the road. But so far, Ellen was a perfect fit.
Otherwise, we watched singers step up in groups of eight and perform a number. I won't say I took pleasure in seeing people go home when I questioned them getting a ticket to Hollywood in the first place. That would be mean. But having my initial impression reinforced by seeing them sent packing certainly made me say, "See, I knew it." But it must be painful for folks like the Italian dude with a big family or the beatboxer or the two sisters from Jersey who all got plentiful airtime for their auditions but are now at home watching just like us.
So to flip it, let me focus on three people who didn't wow me in their auditions (or didn't get a chance to) but did much better here.
CASEY JAMES -- This is the guy who sang for about two seconds in his audition but spent most of his airtime taking off his shirt. Simon said it was embarrassing. Why? Here he sang "I Don't Need No Doctor," a modest hit for Ray Charles and covered recently by John Mayer (and co-written by Ashford and Simpson; who knew?). Casey played some serious blues guitar and was a lot more winning than I expected. He definitely made the most of his Hollywood shot.
MARY POWERS -- This 28-year-old mom looked too much like a Pat Benatar wannabe in her audition (and copycatted Benatar in her vocals too much) for my taste. Well, there's something to be said for maturity. Unlike so many of the kids (who looked like deers staring at headlights), she came on stage with quiet confidence and belted out Pink's "Sober" with aplomb. Still needs work on her look but she won me over.
CRYSTAL BOWERSOX -- Another audition that went by so quickly I wasn't sure what to think (though I did enjoy her laid-back spin on "Piece Of My Heart"). Here she strummed acoustic guitar and sang Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" with such winning charm that the kids in the audience spontaneously sang backup. Very, very winning.
The rest who got through were either new to me or reconfirmed the impression they made in their auditions.
KATIE STEVENS -- Very confident, no frills rendition of Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life."
ANDREW GARCIA -- A very cool, Raul Midon-like spin on Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." We'll be hearing this arrangement again, trust me. Playing an instrument is definitely a help, if you're good. Two skills are always more impressive than one.
JANELL WHEELER -- Sang Estelle's "American Boy," also accompanying herself on guitar. Very good.
HAELEY VAUGHN -- This was a bit iffy for me. She played the guitar okay and was quite sharp on her vocals. Very rough performance and yet I still kept thinking she was pretty darn cute and winning. (The giggle at the end helped.) Torn between putting her through another day on personality. Cute but not great. The judges probably felt the same thing but she'll have to get over her nerves and deliver or this is as far as she'll go.
LILLY SCOTT -- Sang "Lullaby Of Birdland" and played the guitar. Very Madeleine Peyroux and quite charming. (Lose the earrings, though.) Pegged the tune as by Ella Fitzgerald, which of course prompted me to look up authorship. I didn't know the music was by George Shearing! (Lyrics by George David Weiss, who also co-wrote "What A Wonderful World") Blossom Dearie had the biggest chart hit with it. And Lily did great by the tune. She's a comer.
MICHAEL LYNCHE -- The personal trainer, Michael performed while his wife was potentially in labor with their first child. One assumes and hopes the birth went as smoothly, for Michael sailed through with a rendition of John Mayer's "Waiting On The World To Change." Not quite sure why Simon found it inventive since it sounded just like the original to me. I'm not quite won over yet, but he was fine.
TIM URBAN -- Cute kid who did not do a good job with David Cook's "Come Back To Me" but got through anyway.
So that's it. Wednesday is the dreaded group night, my least favorite section since someone can get torpedoed by the shenanigans of some loony in their group. Did anyone catch your eye tonight or convince you they had more than you first expected? And what did you think of Ellen?
Thanks for reading. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his weekly music radio show at Popsurfing and enjoy the weekly pop culture podcast he co-hosts at Showbiz Sandbox. Both available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.