Ready or not, American Idol is back.
After almost two years off the air, the singing competition show returned on Sunday night at its new network, ABC — with a few changes.
The network revealed during its Television Critics Association press tour in January that unlike its latest version, the show will not put bad auditions front and center — and for the most part, that was true during Sunday’s premiere, but what else is different? Read on to find out.
IDOL CAMEOS — AND A BIG DISNEY PLUG
The show opened with an inspiring monologue by none other than Carrie Underwood, before bringing back other alums like Jordin Sparks, Ruben Studdard and Kris Allen at the show’s Orlando, Florida auditions at — you guessed it — Disneyworld.
The Disney presence was hard to miss as Orlando was pretty much the only city to be profiled by the show.
HOW THE NEW JUDGES FARED
New judge Lionel Richie jokingly told ET in November that judging alongside Katy Perry and Luke Bryan felt like teaching Kindergarten — and he wasn’t kidding. While there was a lot of talk about being a “big happy family,” the judges weren’t exactly one just yet. Perry and Bryan clearly vibed off each other and joked during auditions, while Richie tried to remain the voice of reason.
“I’ve got two children that they put me with,” Richie told ET. “I thought I was going to be the authority…but, no, no, I am the Kindergarten teacher. They are so out of control.”
HOW THIS IDOL IS DIFFERENT
First off: less Ryan Seacrest.
The longtime American Idol host didn’t have much of a presence in Sunday’s premiere. Whether it was strategic, due to his name being in the news over sexual harassment allegations (which he has denied), or purely for scheduling reasons (he’s on Live With Kelly and Ryan), we’ll never know. But one thing we did notice was that he wasn’t around a whole lot. And when he was, he spent his time plugging Disney or giving one-liners.
Ahead of the premiere, ET caught up with the judges who had nothing but praise for Seacrest. “He’s the anchor for me,” said Richie. “He keeps it together as far as how to make sense of the show and if we’re in the right direction.”
“He’s the through-through,” Perry chimed in.
THE STANDOUT AUDITIONS
The first ticket to Hollywood went to high school student Catie, whose quirky personality and audition (the very first of the show), made you think it was going to go horribly wrong before she opened her mouth and sang an original song, “21st Century Machine.”
The judges couldn’t have been more in love, setting the stage for another 90 minutes of consistently good auditions. The show highlighted stellar singers like Ron, who captivated audiences with his powerful story of overcoming abuse in the Congo. He was initially told no by the judges but was later brought back and given a chance to perform in Hollywood. There was also Harper Grace, who created her own redemption story by wowing the judges with an original country song after singing one of the worst national anthems at just 11 years old.
Next came Noah Davis of Arkansas, who delivered a surprisingly soulful performance of “Stay” by Rihanna. Another standout was Alyssa Raghu, a sophomore in high school whose rendition of Ariana Grande and Nathan Sykes’ “Almost Is Never Enough,” was good enough for Perry to predict she makes the top 10. “At 15 years old, this isn’t supposed to be happening,” Richie raved. “But I’m very excited to see where this is going.”
THE NOT-SO-GREAT PERFORMANCES
There really weren’t signature “bad” auditions this time around, and most of the negativity came from the contestants rather than the judges. There was Coby, a musical theater performance who brought a little too much Broadway to her auditions, and when Bryan, Perry, and Richie said she’d be better suited for showbiz, she lashed out at the camera.
“I’m sorry, I’m really good. I can take it down, dumba**es,” she hissed while walking out of her audition. “I think Katy’s just a little jealous.”
Then there was Nico Bones, who gave an interesting performance that clearly wasn’t suited for Idol, but received props from the judges anyway. “Katy Perry said I was dope, so I feel like I won somehow,” he shared after his audition.
THE BIGGEST WTF MOMENT
Whether it was her flashy outfits or her vibrant personality, Perry made sure her presence was noticed and in the process became absolutely beloved by the contestants.
At one point, Perry even gave Idol hopeful Benjamin Glaze his very first kiss, when she beckoned for the 19-year-old cashier to come closer and give her a kiss on the cheek. Ever the tricker, Perry turned her head and planted a big one on his lips, causing him to fluster through his performance.
He didn’t make it to Hollywood, but he did become Perry’s No. 1 fan. “It was an eye-opening experience,” he gushed.
After tonight’s premiere, it’s unclear if the show will produce another Carrie Underwood, but rest assured that’s the ultimate goal.
“Literally, we are wasting our time if we do not find a star,” Perry said at ABC’s Television Critics Association press tour in January. “America needs another star. They need a real, legit American Idol. It’s a crowded space and I take it really seriously, sometimes to my detriment.”
American Idol airs Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.