‘American Idol’ recap: Season 11 starts in Savannah

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Is the ‘American Idol’ theme song echoing through your head? Yeah, mine, too. The singing-competition show that paved the way for so many others returned for its 11th season Wednesday night with the first part of a two-night premiere. (The second will air Thursday night.)

It was a laid-back, familiar-feeling kickoff. Ryan Seacrest’s friendly voice reminded us in an opening-montage voiceover that the show has been around so long -- nearly 10 years! -- that some of this year’s auditioning hopefuls have been watching and dreaming of competing on it since they were 6 years old.

Last year’s new judges, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, as well as ‘Idol’ stalwart Randy Jackson, were this year’s old hands, joking around with one another as if they’d known each other all their lives. In the early moments of the show, Lopez said her fellow judges were like ‘family.’

(Side note: It’s a far happier family than that dysfunctional ‘X Factor’ judge quartet. Though I did wonder how long Tyler was going to sit idly -- ‘Idol'-ly? -- by and let Jackson call him ‘Stevie.’ Remember how bent out of shape he got when Lopez called him ‘Steve’ last year? Maybe it’s one of those nicknames we let only our families get away with?)


And what of the auditions themselves? The show trolled for talent in Savannah, Ga., for the first time. (By my count, it took 36 minutes before the show made a ‘Garden of Good and Evil’ reference, which I thought showed remarkable self-control on the producers’ part.) There they found quite a few singers who could sing -- and yes, a few clunkers, but mercifully, these were dwelt on relatively briefly. (Again, nice restraint, guys.)

Highlights included .…

David Leathers Jr., an unusually young-looking 17-year-old who said he once beat out last year’s ‘Idol’ winner, Scotty McCreery, in a local talent contest and had the voice of a young Michael Jackson, along with a good bit of swagger.

Gabi Carrubba, a 16-year-old champion tap dancer who was aiming to sing well to elicit an appreciative look from Tyler, and did.

Shaun Kraisman, who wasn’t all that much of a singer (he didn’t get a ticket to Hollywood) but who did a spot-on Seacrest impression. (Hmmm ... perhaps the ‘X Factor’ suits should give him a call.)

Shannon Magrane, 15-year-old volleyball-playing daughter of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane, whom Tyler called ‘hot, humid and happening,’ much to her father’s apparent chagrin.

Amy Brumfield, a 24-year-old with a hard-luck story (she lives in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend and had never been dressed as ‘nice’ as she was for auditions), an upbeat attitude and an appealing, raspy voice.

Schyler and Colton Dixon, a brother and sister who are returning for another shot after missing the mark last year (Colton came very near making the Season 10 final cut -- and very near not auditioning this year).

Lauren Mink, a 25-year-old who works with adults with intellectual disabilities and gave Lopez ‘goosies’ with her rendition of ‘Country Strong.’

Ashlee Altise, who has created (and amply demonstrated) a happy dance she calls the ‘joy-hop.’

And the improbably named but very talented Phillip Phillips, whose voice makes his pawn shop owner dad ‘swell up’ with pride. (Awww!)

There were others, good and bad. (Notable rejects included Joshua Chavis, who freaked out on the camera crew after he got the bad news, and Mawuena Kodjo, who brought in a bunch of random people from the street to try to sway the judges, alas, to no avail.) But the best thing about Savannah may have been the way it afforded Tyler the opportunity to make the following joke.

TV reporter, outside auditions, thrusting a mic Tyler’s way: How’s Savannah treating you?

Tyler: Oh, Savannah’s treating me great, but I didn’t know you knew her!

Ba-dum-bum! Next? The auditions roll through Pittsburgh. Steel yourselves! (Figured I’d make that joke before Tyler did.)

What did you think of the ‘Idol’ premiere? Did you have any audition favorites?


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-- Amy Reiter