A Kinder, Gentler American Idol?


Jan. 14 2009, Published 6:42 a.m. ET

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The season premiere of <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>American Idol</strong></a> had everything — singing, dancing, tears, laughs... and a woman in a bikini trying to stick her tongue down <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Ryan Seacrest</strong></a>'s throat.

But while Tuesday's first-round audition show did highlight some of the more oddball hopefuls at this summer's tryouts in Phoenix, AZ, the episode's focus was more on the success stories and less on the truly bizarre contestants. Of the 18 auditions shown in full on the show, a whopping 11 of them ended in golden tickets, a much higher percentage than in past seasons.

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Among the positive highlights — at least for Idol fans who enjoy decent singing — were Emily Wynne-Hughes, the pink-haired, tattooed and pierced rocker from L.A. who said she's willing to ditch an upcoming European tour with her band if it means AI success; perky San Diego high-schooler Arriana Afsar; Louisville, KY, bartender Deanna Brown; teen horror-film buff Cody Sheldon of Detroit; and Arizona's own Scott MacIntyre, who didn't let his near-blindness interfere with scoring a golden ticket.

Some of those going on to the Hollywood round were not without controversy. And the one that caused the most trouble among the judges was the brazen and bronzed Katrina Darrell of Chino Hills, Calif., who managed to get judges <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Simon Cowell</strong></a> and Randy Jackson to overlook her quite obvious vocal shortcomings by filling out a skimpy bikini. Katrina's rendition of <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Mariah Carey</strong></a> hit "Vision of Love" so irritated new Idol judge <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Kara DioGuardi</strong></a> that the feisty songwriter felt compelled to demonstrate how the song should be sung.

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One person who would have enjoyed being in the room for that vocal showdown is 16-year-old Lea Marie, who claimed to be Kara's biggest fan. However, that wasn't enough to earn the bouncy teenager a trip to Hollywood.

On the freakshow side of things, there wasn't much to write home about. A dude with an insanely deep voice; some funny haircuts; a rocker guy who couldn't rock and one contestant who may have misspelled "sexual chocolate" in the huge tattoo on his back.

All in all, it was an upbeat and generally positive start to the season. None of the rumored catfights between Kara and <a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Paula Abdul</strong></a> and no terribly mean-spirited zingers from Simon. Whether this is a formula that will work for the rest of the season remains to be seen.


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