Does anybody understand how 51 people from the seemingly lackluster "American Idol" New Jersey auditions got sent along to Hollywood? Did the producers just decide we didn't deserve to see the good contestants? Were at least 30 of those contestants freaks Jennifer Lopez couldn't bear to send home, or hotties Steven Tyler was hoping to hook up with after the show?
And if the "Idol" producers thought New Jersey was capable of sustaining a full two-hour premiere, what hope is there for New Orleans, home of Thursday (Jan. 20) night's showcase?
Click through for my reactions to The Crescent City...
8 p.m. ET. Blake Patterson opens the show with a horrible rendition of "Smile." He's in a room of people clapping for him derisively as he starts to cry and leave. People are mean. Then again, some people can't sing. It's a delicate balance.
8:01 p.m. I'm just never gonna get used to those new opening graphics. Never. They're. Just. So. Different.
8:02 p.m. Let the good times roll, y'all! Let's make lots of references to Mardi Gras!
8:02 p.m. We're treated to footage of Ryan Seacrest blowing lines during the show's previous visit. He's being mocked for his difficulties saying "Laissez les bons temps rouler." Me? I'm mocking him for his frosted tips. Remember, "People are mean."
8:03 p.m. Our first contestant is Jordan Dorsey, a 21-year-old a music teacher who schools kids in piano and vocals. He's a harsh taskmaster. His goal is to show that the more work you put in, the more you'll succeed. Randy Jackson expects Jordan to be in tune. Will he fulfill that promise? Indeed he will. He does a rather lovely rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Half-way through the performance he changes temp and provides a nice variation. I'm already feeling better about New Orleans. Jennifer Lopez has goosebumps. They all agree Jordan is going to Hollywood.
8:06 p.m. Wow. Is Jordan Dorsey the first singer of the season that I'd actually like to see/hear more of? That says as much for New Jersey as for Jordan Dorsey, but good for him!
8:11 p.m. Shouty girl. Shouty guy. Inept guy who can't hear himself sing. Girl who doesn't seem awful, but gets cut off early and mocked.
8:12 p.m. "Where did you get those lips," Steven Tyler leers at Sarah Sellers, a marketing analyst and food and music blogger. Sarah is 28, which makes Tyler's leering very nearly appropriate. Sarah has a slightly thin voice, but it's still nice and restrained. I'm inclined to like bloggers, though. "You had me sold from the second you laid eyes on me," Tyler leers. J-Lo calls Sarah one of the best they've heard. And Randy just nods uselessly.
8:15 p.m. Jovany Barretto is a shipbuilder and a snazzy dresser, wearing a purple top and a silver vest. He's got a thing for J-Lo, a thing that was only enhanced by Lopez's marriage to Marc Anthony. Unfortunately, Jovany has been bet that he won't take his shirt off for J-Lo. That could cause trouble. Jovany actually has solid pipes, singing in Spanish, impressing J-Lo. He tells J-Lo that she's a goddess in his eyes. And J-Lo is a Jovany fan. "From my melodic sensibility, it was very delicious," Tyler says. Jovany is going to Hollywood, but before leaving, he decides to sacrifice all dignity by disrobing. Randy and Steven volunteer to strip with him, which disappoints and amuses J-Lo. [So far, J-Lo has been spectacularly styled through these first two episodes. She is, indeed, looking spectacular.]
8:20 p.m. Randy Jackson's belly is one of those things you can't unsee.
8:21 p.m. I'm up at Sundance right now, with some of the best little movies in the world looming before me, but at this second, I can honestly say that the only movie I want to see is "The Roommate." In what way would Park City harmed with the presence of Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester?
8:23 p.m. Yes. A plantation. We know. You're in Louisiana, "American Idol."
8:24 p.m. Randy Jackson's brother is in the house!
8:24 p.m. A gorgeous contestant enters the room with pictures of Randy Jackson from high school. Her uncle is Randy Jackson's old football coach. "So Coach, did you ever paddle his a**?" Steven Tyler leers. But will Coach's very pretty niece be able to sing? Her name is Jacquelyn Dupree and she's pretty solid, at least by the standards of Attractive People Who Have Incriminating Pictures of Randy Jackson. She's a yeller, but she has very nice moments. Steven Tyler praises her "ups and downs." It's three yeses and Jacquelyn is off to Hollywood.
8:27 p.m. Up next is Brett Loewenstern, who describes himself as "a red apple in a pile of green apples." He's an outcast. People call him a dork and a geek. He's like a character Ben Foster would have played a decade ago. He has a message to kids, to be themselves and be happy with themselves. OK. I can root for this 16-year-old. "I've got this" is Brett's catchphrase. Brett uses curling cream and baby oil in his hair, which reminds Steven Tyler of what he used to do in his youth. Not one to shy from a challenge, Brett launches into pretty impressive version of "Bohemian Rhapsody." J-Lo calls him "Simply Red" and all three judges send Brett to Hollywood. Go Brett! I hope he sticks around long enough for me to confuse people by comparing him to Garrett Haley.
8:32 p.m. This appears to have been one of those locations where they poorly labeled the entrances and exits.
8:36 p.m. It's been a good morning and Gabriel Franks hopes to keep the good feelings going. He has the same vibe as that guy from last season or two seasons ago who looked like a '60s rock leading man and then fell flat on his face at the start of the semi-finals. It turns out that Gabriel won some contest for looking like Steven Tyler. But Tyler disagrees and says that Gabriel actually has Mick Jagger's mouth. Just in case you had high hopes for Gabriel, he launches into a silly and campy version of "Bad Romance." It's bad until he decides to turn the chorus into an out-of-tune rock song. He gets three "No" votes and goes home.
8:39 p.m. "I Put a Spell On You." That's never a good sign... Cue a montage of people who either can't sing or who look possessed when they attempt to sing.
8:40 p.m. Wow. They're really hyping up that 15-year-old whose voice we're going to have to hear to believe. Why not let me hear it and believe it?!?
8:45 p.m. Ryan Seacrest can't figure out how to say "New Orleans" either normally or with a Southern accent.
8:45 p.m. Will Idol Camp have assisted Alex Attardo? No. I hope Idol Camp is free, because it's hard to imagine how much worse Alex could be. "Maybe we should cancel the camp," Randy cracks. Steven Tyler says that Alex failed in straying far from the melody. Randy tells Alex he's terrible and the aspiring contestant is confused.
8:47 p.m. Jacee Badeaux is the 15-year-old we were warned about (even though Seacrest can't begin to pronounce his name). He has a surprisingly pure and beautiful high voice. What are we gonna do if they decide to put this kid through and then his voice changes, Peter Brady style? The judges like him. He's going to Hollywood. Why did we have to hear him to believe him? Sometimes young male singers have lovely high voices. It's not really unheard of.
8:53 p.m. New Orleans' final contestant is Paris Tassin. She got pregnant when she was 18. She was urged by doctors not to keep the baby, who had problems in the womb. But Paris was having none of it and her daughter is healthy, other than hearing difficulties. "I'm singin' for her," declares Paris, who not-coincidentally is kinda pretty. This is not the kind of singer who gets brought out to suck, not in the last segment of an audition episode. She's got a big voice, but she actually builds to the shouting, rather than shouting from the beginning. Paris reduces J-Lo to tears. "When you sang, I felt it," J-Lo says. "I do that for my daughter, because I want to teach her, 'Go for your dreams,'" Paris responds. Everybody says "Yes" to Paris.
8:58 p.m. The judges hold hands and agree that this is one of the best days they've had.
8:59 p.m. On the way out, J-Lo says "Hi" to Paris and to Paris' baby, adding "It means everything." OK. Even I'm getting sniffly now. Well played, J-Lo. Well played.
That was a pretty huge improvement over Wednesday's premiere, wasn't it? With Jordan Dorsey, Jovany Bareto, Brett Loewenstern and Paris Tassin (you can add Jacee Badeaux if you have faith that puberty [and not really looking like an American Idol] isn't going to catch up with him), I felt like this episode offered some hints of actual talent.
Were the judges any better? Well, we concentrated much less heavily on Steven Tyler saying naughty things to teenage girls, so that was a huge plus. And with very few tough decisions, J-Lo could just be beautiful and earnest, which may be all she can ever hope to contribute. And Randy? Well, let's just say that we haven't seen any indication that he's decided to step up his substance in Simon's absence...
What'd you think of Thursday's show? Better, right? Who did you like?