This week, “American Idol” continued its bid to win back viewers' hearts with yet another jolt to its format.
Billed as "Rush Week," the high-stakes round started the season's live shows, and was the first time finalists would sing for America’s vote.
In recent years this part of the competition would feature contestants vying for a spot during a semifinals round in Las Vegas. Instead, Rush Week will slice more than a third of the finalists in just a week.
The tension was immediate Tuesday night as the round also doubled as an elimination with the top 15 women whittled down to 10 -- in front of a live audience. It was jarring, but rewarding for “Idol” viewers who thought the aging franchise had no more tricks left.
For those still resisting “Idol” -- whether exhausted from the growing slate of singing competitions or a greater interest in its perma-buzzy rival "The Voice," it's time to come back.
Still unsure? Here are seven reasons you should tune in, and stick around:
The set. The “Idol” stage got a makeover that is flashier and feels more like a performance space with a 360-degree environment that includes a secondary stage and more audience interaction.
Song choices are smarter. With all due respect to my parents, who have loved “Idol” as long as I have, this season's song choices continue to be on par with what I’m spinning on Spotify. Adorable hopeful Majesty Rose opened with Pharrell's gleeful clap-along "Happy," Bria Anai tackled Melanie Fiona's R&B scorcher "Wrong Side of a Love Song." And, yes, there was some Adele too. The current radio hits didn't always work though -- one contestant literally stumbled through a karaoke take of Katy Perry's smash "Roar."
Idol alum. It was long rumored a few “Idol” alumni were being tapped for the judges panel. This turned out to be false. But those hoping to see past “Idol” finalists mold current ones got a treat during Rush Week as series favorites Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry were on hand to help mentor contestants.
The Dawg returns. Speaking of “Idol” alums, producers offered little details on founding judge Randy Jackson's new role as in-house mentor. The Dawg made his debut as the contestant's sensei with an immersive boot camp that will further develop contestants. Jimmy Iovine was brilliant in this role -- he had the sharp bite that made Simon Crowell polarizing -- but Jackson is an effortless sell. Cue up those hilarious colloquialisms.
Better backstage access. “Idol” has always offered a peek at the rise of its hopefuls, but pre-performance packages felt especially beefed up. This was due to producers giving camera time to contestants working with the Jackson-led dream team that included makeup artists, movement coaches, vocal coaches and believe it or, non denominational spiritual advisers (they looked like run of the mill therapists, but whatever).
The talent. Though only the first batch of contestants were showcased Tuesday (male finalists perform Wednesday), the talent is among the strongest the show has seen in recent years. The crop of female contestants sang with a noticeable urgency, probably fueled by the tension of the night. It also helped that last season crowned the show’s first female victor in six years.
Idol History. Nearly a dozen years into the Fox institution, contestants are still making history. Believe it or not, “Idol” only just landed its first openly gay contestant with MK Nobilette, and she's one to watch. Nobilette stole the night with a flawless rendition of John Legend’s wedding ballad, "All of Me." It was transcendent, and watching her two moms cheer her on is the reason Kleenex were invented. It'll easily go down among the series' best performances. In the words of Randy Jackson, she's “in it to win it.”
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