I was able to talk to Nygel Lythgoe today, coincidentally on the day “American Idol” debuts. He is in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre judging the first rounds of season 11 of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Since he was there for his dance show, I had time to ask him only a couple of “Idol” related questions. Naturally, he misses it and he clearly wished he had been able to get this current judge’s panel together in the first place.
He said he has wanted Harry Connick Jr. as a judge for a long time but without saying so, it’s clear he didn’t have final say despite being an executive producer.
Last month, I wrote an extensive advance look at the episode. So I don’t have to waste time, I’ll post some of it here again. Feel free to live comment about the show when it starts at 8 p.m.
AMERICAN IDOL XIII: Austin Auditions: Contestant Rolando Guerrero gets a hug from Jennifer Lopez during his audition. AMERICAN IDOL XIII begins with a two-night, four-hour premiere Wednesday, Jan. 15 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday, Jan. 16 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.© Copyright 2013 FOX Broadcasting Co.
– Last year, they trumpeted the judges’ panel up front. (Mariah! Nicki! Keith! Oh my!). This year, they don’t even introduce them formally until 20 minutes in. As I said before, the focus is on the singers on stage, not those behind the table. Then again, the J. Lo obsessives do show up.
– The aspirational feel is deeply imbued into the episode. The jokey contestants? Scarce. (They were in reality always hard to find.)
– Stylistically, the show looks different because the editors are now obsessed with… split screens! They like to show what’s going on simultaneously (more or less) in two or three different places at once – constantly. It’s a nice touch at times but I think they overplayed their hand on this one. (I liked it when Alexander Payne did it in the film “Sideways” but he did it judiciously, not every three minutes.)
– Ryan Seacrest still narrates and hosts but they use him a lot less. Instead, they rely more on the contestants and their families talking amongst themselves. They also utilize video shot by the contestants themselves even more. (“X Factor” utilized that technique season two.)
– The golden ticket to Hollywood for the first time looks pretty with the words, “Congratulations! Welcome to Hollywood” embossed on it.
– The editors were smart enough to show the judges disagree but they do so respectfully. Harry says no more than the other two, based on the sampling I saw.
– Harry has enough charm to bottle up and feed an entire nation. But we already knew that.
– Harry is honest but doesn’t go all Simon on contestants. “Growing up in a time when there’s pitch-correcting software, you could use it,” was the roughest critique I heard.
– Harry also isn’t taken in by vocal gymnastics for the sake of vocal gymnastics. And for that, I’m thankful.
– And Harry will school you on musical terms you may or may not have ever heard of.
– They do a tease where someone sings and they ask you to take a poll: will she make it to Hollywood or not after the break with hashtags? That isn’t a bad way to use social media.
– Seacrest has a flashback moment related to his football playing days. Now who wins: Seacrest or a bunch of chairs? And he tries to pick up a cowboy. (Don’t ask.)
– We are shown Boston and Austin auditions. But if Atlanta is a guide, whatever outdoor backdrop they have in each city behind them is probably fake. They shot Atlanta auditions at the W Hotel in Midtown but used a backdrop that made it appear the judges were overlooking Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
– Silliest gimmick: “The Chamber.” Yes, they stick the singers in a tiny room before they are released into the audition room, just to increase the tension – or something like that.
– Guitars and other instruments (but mostly guitars) were allowed for the first time in the first rounds and they are also allowed up front with the judges. Plenty of folks take advantage. A teen from Bradenton, Fla. uses the guitar with good effect singing “Lego House” by Ed Sheeran, for instance. Another guy does a solid original.
– There’s a guy who auditions in Boston who looks suspiciously like Phillip Phillips but sounds more like John Mayer. There’s also a Justin Bieber look alike. And someone who could give Ruben Studdard a run for his money. And for the guys: a New England Patriots’ cheerleader!
– Georgia is represented by one contestant from Jackson who auditioned in Austin. She’s promising. (See left.) Her over-reliance on runs, though, irritate Harry.
– The sob stories are minimized. There is no long segment about a singer whose parents/girlfriend/spouse died in a tragic accident. Back stories are summarized mostly in a few seconds. Nobody’s missing arm/deafness/acid reflux is highlighted.
– We know we’re getting old because some of these contestants say they’ve been wanting to be on the show since they were “four or five years old.”
– Added graphic element: at the end of the episode, they show a map where each of the folks who made it to Hollywood are from. Nice touch – even the Jackson, GA dot isn’t quite in the right spot. #mapstickler