“American Idol” returns on March 11, with the same format and host (Ryan Seacrest) but on a new network (ABC) and with three new famous faces as judges: pop princess Katy Perry, country superstar Luke Bryan and Oscar-winning singer/songwriter Lionel Richie.
Over its first 15 seasons on FOX, this reality-competition series made stars out of some of the winners (like season 4 champ Carrie Underwood) and judges (Simon Cowell became a household name and producer of such hits as “America’s Got Talent”). Kelly Clarkson, the very first winner of “American Idol” way back in 2003, just started as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice.”
While that show doesn’t reveal the identity of the contestants until after the judges have listened to them sing, “American Idol” has the hopefuls facing the panel face forward. These audition episodes make for must-see TV as much for the awful acts as the ones that sound and look like they could go all the way.
Once the live playoffs of “American Idol” season 16 begin on April 22, you will be able to predict the outcome of each episode in our predictions center. You can already make forecasts for the outcomes on such reality TV shows as “Survivor,” plus the winners of the Academy of Country Music Awards and both the daytime and primetime Emmy Awards.
Below, follow along with all the action on the March 11 premiere episode of “American Idol.”
8:00 p.m. – It’s time to find out if “American Idol” still has the magic it once had as a hit FOX series years ago. Unlike “The Voice,” the judges tour the country and come to the contestants, rather than vetting talent from across the nation to come to them. The upside of that is finding that potential diamond in the rough with no performing experience. The downside, of course, are the multiple auditions from people who can’t sing a lick. How will this season of talent compare to that on “The Voice”? And how will Katy, Lionel and Luke do as judges? Let’s find out!
8:05 p.m. – The season kicked off with an all-star endorsement from Season 4 winner, Carrie Underwood, who provided the opening narration about the search for a superstar. Next, brief intros of Katy, Lionel and Luke are shown, who seem to have a great rapport with one another.
8:10 p.m. – The auditions are kicking off in New York City and the first singer to perform for the judges is Catie Turner, a 17-year old from Pennsylvania. She’s high energy, to a potentially annoying degree, and is a singer-songwriter. She jumps right into an original song while accompanying herself on guitar. She’s a solid singer, but doesn’t do anything for me. Luke said she’s “interesting and brilliant beyond her years.” Lionel is fascinated with her brain and loves her writing. The judges must be suffering from inexperience. They all gave her an overwhelming yes!
8:20 p.m. – Up next is Ron Bultongez, who was born in the Congo. At just 10 years old, Ron immigrated from the Congo and suffered abuse at the hands of his father. Now a father himself, Ron hopes to end that cycle and give his son the life he deserves. Unfortunately, his story is more charming than his voice. He’s an average vocalist with horrible diction. Luke is so excited about Ron. Katy said she doesn’t know who he is as an artist (glad someone said it). Luke said “yes,” Katy said “no,” and Lionel delivered the final blow with a “no.” He said he is holding him back and wants him to return later with an identity. I like Lionel! Luke has no standards.
8:25 p.m. – After the commercial break, the judges called Ron back because Lionel couldn’t get him out of his head. Apparently they want to give him another chance. Lionel changed his vote to “yes” and now he will advance to the next round. These judges need to learn that this is the search for a superstar! Not the search for every average singer in the country who wants a flight to L.A. Ron’s a nice guy, but the dude’s not a great singer. Perhaps the judges will wake up when someone with a lot of talent actually shows up.
8:30 p.m. – Maddie Poppe is now singing “Rainbow Connection.” She’s another singer songwriter, who has talent, but doesn’t sound any different than thousands of other singers I’ve heard. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with this season so far. She made it through to the next round.
8:35 p.m. – Koby is a Broadway performer, which excites me at this point! I have to imagine a Broadway singer has serious chops. But my hopes were dashed when Koby opened her mouth and screamed a hideous mess of endless runs. This has to be a joke for publicity. I have no clue what she sang, but it was a hot mess. Koby proceeded to ignore Katy’s critique and beg for her golden ticket. The judges told her that she’s not a recording artist. If anyone casting Broadway shows sees this audition, she won’t be a stage actress ever again either. Luke said if she moved to New York City she might be able to be the next Kristin Chenoweth. That is such a slap in the face to a Broadway legend.
8:45 p.m. – Next, the auditions move to Nashville. I hope that’s not really all the talent they found in New York! How humiliating. Maybe they will return. Anyways, back in Nashville we are seeing an audition from Harper Grace, a 16-year old best known for her horrendous version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that went viral as “the worst National Anthem ever” when she was just 11. Can she redeem herself? She’s singing an original song she wrote and has a good contemporary country sound. She’s probably the best audition yet, and sounded even better on her second song, “Young and Dumb.” She’s headed to Hollywood!
9:00 p.m. – Layla Spring is up next. I’m trying to remember the purpose of this show is to fine unpolished talent and create a star. It’s different from “The Voice,” who mostly picks out seasoned artists. Layla is from the Kentucky and I love her accent. It reminds me of former Idol alum, Kellie Pickler. Layla is singing “Who’s Loving You” and has the confidence and spunk it might take to go far in this competition. Katy doesn’t seem convinced, but thinks she would benefit from the Hollywood experience. Lionel told her “it’s not a business of it’s just cute and I want to sing.” Lionel wants her to understand she’s going into the fire so he hopes it won’t destroy her. Hopeful, the judges send her to Hollywood.
9:05 p.m. – Benjamin Glaze, a cashier at an electronics store is up next. He’s a dorky, infectious personality. After confessing he’s never kissed a girl, Katy offers to be he’s first, causing him to collapse immediately. After a swig of water, Benjamin is singing with the same pop singer/songwriter sound I feel like we’ve heard 1,000 times before. The judges turned him down, but at least he got to kiss Katy Perry.
9:15 p.m. – The judges have now headed west to Los Angeles for a new group of auditions. First up is Niko. He’s without question my favorite person so far, but I haven’t heard him sing. He is dressed like a punk rocker, sings for free drinks and showed up with a hangover. He looks like gives zero f***s. Ugh! I wish he was a good singer, but he’s just singing a funny song about worms haha. Oh well, of all the gimmicky performers, he was my favorite. It’s a no for Niko! But he’s winning at life.
9:20 p.m. – Next up is Noah Davis, a 18-year old from Arkansas. He has a great personality, but doesn’t look like a typical pop star. On the surface, he looks like the type of singer this show is all about! I hope he can sing. Accompanying himself on piano, Noah is singing “Stay” and the kid has serious talent! This is the best audition of the night and the first time I saw someone I could see succeeding on the live shows. He absolutely nailed it. The judges stood up and hugged him, as if they just heard talent for the first time. Because they did.
9:30 p.m. – The judges have moved down to Orlando to continue their search. Former champs Jordin Sparks, Kris Allen and Ruben Studdard were on hand for the festivities. A confident Florida native named Alyssa Raghu walked in to sing “Almost Is Never Enough.” She’s a true diamond in the rough, possessing a beautiful pop voice and innate ability to emote. Katy got goosebumps from the 15 year-old and Luke said she’s “easy on the ears.” Already, they said she’s “Top 10.” But first, she’ll have to make it through Hollywood!
9:40 p.m. – Next up is Sardor Milano, a 26-year old from Moscow, Russia. He’s bringing a “new style of music” to America. I have a bad feeling about this audition. At the top of his performance, he belts out an operatic falsetto that was so sharp that my dog sitting next to me looked at the tv and tilted his head in confusion. We both agreed with the judges, Sardor is terrible. He will have to chase an American dream other than singing. Why do these judges keep telling the bad singers to go to Broadway? Most singers I know who work on Broadway can sing all of these judges under the table.
9:50 p.m. – The judges are now back in New York, so I’m happy what we saw earlier in this episode wasn’t all they could muster up in the Big Apple. A quirky, sock-obsessed vocalist who looks a bit like Harry Potter is hoping he will be the next to win a Golden Ticket to Hollywood. His name is Zack D’Onofrio and will be singing “The Way You Look Tonight.” His singing voice is much lower than his speaking voice, as he averagely croons and dances with Katy. The guy is okay, but I’ve heard better young singers in this genre. He has potential though. He’s going to Hollywood!
10:00 p.m. – The final audition is the night is Dennis Lorenzo from West Philadelphia (“born and raised”). At the age of five, Dennis’ father was murdered and Dennis started down a troublesome path. At 16, he received his first guitar and he’s been singing ever since. Singing “Unaware,” Dennis has an effortless flow and naturally beautiful tone. They definitely saved the best for last on this first night of auditions. This guy has range, subtlety and everything it takes to be a great singer. Lionel called him “refreshing.” Luke said Dennis is “why I signed up for this.” We will be seeing Dennis in Hollywood! And that’s a wrap for the season premiere of the new “American Idol.”