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For the first time without original judge Paula Abdul — and for the last time with ornery Brit Simon Cowell — a new season of American Idol kicked off Tuesday night with the first round of auditions from Boston. And while Idol has never had a champ from the Northeast, New England did not disappoint in providing the Fox hit with the usual cast of starry-eyed hopefuls, colorful clowns and flat-out freaks.

THE BEST OF THE BUNCH
As always, the show highlighted its share of early standouts. In all, there were 32 recipients of Golden Tickets from Boston. Here are some of those who made it to the Hollywood round:

• Maddy Curtis: This 16-year-old from Virginia was the first auditioner to be handed that ticket to the next round after wowing the judges with her rendition of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah.” Judge Kara DioGuardi told Maddy, “You have this old soul about you.” Meanwhile, Simon summed it up best: “Amazingly, for 16… you’re not annoying.”

• Amadeo Diricco: “I just feel like I’m home with my cousins,” Kara told the burly 28-year-old bartender from Rhode Island, who surprised everyone with his bluesy pipes. “In a strange way, it was my favorite audition of the day,” said Simon.

• Ashley Rodriguez: She has to be declared an early front-runner after all the judges went wild over the combined voice/look package this 21-year-old college student offers. “You’re my favorite today,” raved Kara
while Simon crowed, “Some people have got it and i think you may have it.”

•Tyler Grady: Things didn’t look hopeful for this lanky Pennsylvania teen during the pre-interview when he regaled Ryan Seacrest with the tale of breaking both his wrists by falling out of a tree. But the drummer-turned-singer with the bell bottoms and big hair impressed all the judges when he crooned “Let’s Get It On” for them. “I think the girls maybe wanted you to continue,” joked Randy Jackson. Added Kara, “This is gonna be one of those auditions I’ll remember.”

• Luke Shaffer: They didn’t show too much of this 24-year-old scruffed-up cutie from NYC. But what they did show of the waiter with a soulful voice had many readers of our live blog swooning and anxious to see him again in the Hollywood round.

• Leah Laurenti: Another one who earned raves from all four judges, despite looking like she was about to break out in tears at any moment. The 22-year-old from Long Island explained that music had always been her passion, even though she’d been raised in a strict family that frowned upon listening to secular pop music.
“One of the best I heard today,” said Randy, with Kara agreeing: “One of the best we’ve seen.”

• Katie Stevens: This teen from Connecticut doesn’t just have the voice to go far in the competition, she’s got the personality and the heartstring-tugging back story to go along with it.

• Justin Williams: Speaking of touching back stories, it would be hard to beat this Utah hunk’s tale of beating cancer. Add that to his sparkling eyes and lush voice and the 27-year-old vocal coach stands a chance of winning a lot of votes. Guest judge Victoria Beckham said it best: “The girls are gonna like you.”

THE REST
It’s hard to distinguish the genuinely delusional from the auditioners who are just trying to get on camera. Regardless, here are a few that will probably make the season-end highlight reel.
• Janet McNamara: The 26-year-old accountant in the ill-fitting pink shirt kicked off the season with a sputter, not just confounding the judges with her bizarre performance, but also by twice confusing Kara with Paula!

•Pat Ford: The over-the-top teen from New Hampshire seemed a bit too calculated in his weirdness, but he did get Simon to admit that he’s “never had any friends,” and that goes a long way in our book.

• Derek Hilton: With his long, flowing blonde locks, Derek described his sound as “Chris Brown meets the Eagles.” Simon more correctly described it as “utter rubbish.” Of greater concern, Derek said he admired Chris Brown because, “I like how he touches kids all around the world.” Um… next.

• Mere Doyle: This anime fan claims to have been to “hundreds of auditions” and have had 14 years of vocal coaching. And she was not happy with being rejected. “They say I’m terrible… that I’m better off as a clown,” she cried after the audition. “How dare you?!”

• Andrew Fenlon: Perhaps the most confounding hopeful in Boston was this Clark Kent lookalike with a nasty disposition. After complaining about having to wait and then chiding the judges for their interview questions, Kara let him have it. “I am angry at you, who i don’t like at all!” she exploded. “You need a spanking.” Added Victoria afterward, “He’s even more arrogant than Simon.”

• Lisa Olivero: This 24-year-old waitress had the look and the confidence to be the next Idol, but her voice was more than a little lacking. Quoth Simon about her rendition of “Vision of Love,”: “It was probably the craziest version of Mariah Carey I’ve ever heard.”

• Norberto Guerrero: With his lion-like mane of jet black curls, sculpted goatee, sequined vest and fingerless gloves, the statue for Most Unique Look goes to this Pennsylvania teenager. And when he forgot the lyrics to his song, it gave Simon the chance to tell it like it is: “You sing like a 3-year-old girl dressed like LaToya Jackson. The whole thing was just too weird.”

So what did you think of the Season 9 premiere? Any early favorites yet?

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