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<I>American Idol</I>: Why It’s Worth Another Look

It's been a number of years before we had anything remotely kind to say about American Idol, and when we got a full screener of this season's premiere, we definitely rolled our eyes. It seemed like a sign of desperation because the show usually just sends critics teasers for each season, not full episodes. So out of sheer curiosity (and boredom during that off week during the holidays), we decided to check it out. And, well, it was surprisingly decent. We'd go so far as to even say watchable, almost to the point of enjoyable. And if the premiere is any indication of the direction the show is taking this year, maybe we'll grouch less about having to sit through yet another competitive reality singing show. This is not to say that it's blow-your-mind DVR-worthy but it is definitely leaps and bounds above the last few Simon-less seasons. So why the dramatic improvement? Here's our take on the big changes:

No Randy
Randy Jackson will still be involved in some capacity, but he was not to be found at all in the premiere. Such a refreshing change. All the modifications in the world and judge shuffling of the past few seasons didn't help as much as simply scrapping any vestige of the original panel and just getting on with it. And without Randy tired phrases and banter, this year's panel has a chance to really find their own voices.

Keith Urban, Sole Survivor
He's the lone judge to survive the cut after last year and we're pretty happy about that. He seems to be a fan of the show, has plenty of knowledge of the music industry and might appreciate a country artist in the way that certain other judges might not. And the guy deserves some sort of award for surviving the volatile Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey wars.

The Return of Jennifer Lopez
She was gone but now she's back. And seems delighted to be there, and the auditioners are thrilled to see her too. They all seem to worship at the house of J.Lo; we can't even imagine what would happen if Beyoncé were to ever judge this show. But J.Lo gives pretty decent advice, and doesn't seem as self-involved as some certain divas who graced this show last season.

Less Awful Contestants
I think the show has learned over the seasons (and by watching the success of The Voice) that audiences are pretty tired of listening to off-key people belt out songs to get their five minutes of screen time. Sure, there are a handful pitchy singers peppered throughout the premiere, but they are fairly limited and not nearly as bad as the William Hung's of the world.

The Elevator of Doom
Okay, Seacrest had some other stupid name for it that we refuse to learn, but they found a way to incorporate that long elevator ride that's usually reserved for the end of Hollywood week, into the audition rounds. Having the contestants sit in a confined space for a minute or two before they take the walk into perform for the judges gives us a better look at the nerves, and less of the cocky attitudes.

Not Just A Cappella Anymore
They've expanded the use of instruments to this initial round for the first time, and that really seems to allow the normally nervous singer/songwriter types a chance to be more comfortable. Of course, this leads to some bitchiness from the people who don't know how to play instruments as they decry this as an unfair advantage… to which we say: learn to play and stop whining.

It's All in the Edit
Not sure if there's a new editing team working magic behind the scenes, or if they've just taken ideas on pacing from the plethora of other singing shows, but Idol is far better paced this season. Footage of the contestants, interviews and auditions are all nicely spliced together in a way that really didn't seem to drag.

Harry Connick, Jr., Comedian
Half of the people auditioning are clueless to who he is, but that's probably to be expected by this young group. Still, he's got musical chops (we'd love to see a terminology battle between him and The Sing Off's Ben Folds) and the moms of the world seem to be thrilled that he's joined the show. We thought he might be kind of a non-entity, but he's absolutely charming, particularly when he's flirting with the lovely Miss Lopez or bantering with the contestants. He's just delightful and a major positive addition to the season.

Will you give Idol another shot?

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