Of the more than a million people across the country who have auditioned for American Idol, only a few dozen know what it’s truly like to live the Idol life. And that’s why OKmagazine.com brings you Idol Round Table, where former finalists Mikalah Gordon, Anoop Desai, Diana DeGarmo and Megan Joy — and some special guests — will share their insider insights on the new season.

This week, the Round Table discusses early front-runners, Paula Abdul‘s absence and whether or not AI can survive the departure of Simon Cowell.

Mikalah, who covered the early auditions as a correspondent for the TV Guide Channel, had a chance to get up close and personal with the hopeful. “There were a few standouts to me,” she says about the Boston tryouts. “I will say Maddie Curtis was amazing. She has an old soul just like Kara said… loved her and have much respect for her. Benjamin Bright was also very good, along with Ashley Rodriguez who had a great audition!”

Both Maddie and Ashley made Megan Joy’s list of early faves, though she saved a special shout-out for Justin Williams: “GO SANDY, UTAH BOY!” she cheered.

As for Atlanta, Mikalah said she had mixed emotions. One stand out: Holly “Guitar Girl” Harden” “That voice came out of her… Seriously?” recalls Mikalah. “She reminds me of Kellie Pickler. Vanessa Wolfe, who we saw jumping bridges and living in small town Tennessee has the ability to be very good, but I’m worried she will be so far out of her element. But my favorite of the day was Jermaine Sellers who sang ‘What if God was One of Us’! He had such control over his vocals it was fabulous.”

This week was also the first chance for everyone to see how the Idol fared without original judge Paula. For his part, Anoop tells OK! he’s taking a wait-and-see attitude. “It’s hard to tell, but the rotating judge spot has held up so far,” he explains. “The real test will be during Hollywood week when Ellen DeGeneres joins the judging table. That’s when we’ll see how the dynamic between the panel plays out.”

When she first heard the news of Paula’s exit, Megan says she couldn’t imagine the show without the offbeat judge, but the new format is growing on her. “I love Paula and certainly have a spot in my heart for her, so it’s weird to not see her for sure,” Megan says. “But I loved Victoria Beckham and Mary J. Blige… I am just so happy and proud that I was a part of last season with both Paula and Simon.”

Mikalah puts the whole situation in perspective, saying, “I love Paula, and I will miss her when I go to visit this year. But honestly you can’t tell yet that she is gone. That’s probably because it’s just the auditions, so check back with me on this question when the top 24 starts.”

So if the show has managed to stay afloat without mainstay Paula, does that bode well for a Simon-free future? “If they revamped everything, yes,” opines Mikalah. “If they keep it exactly how it is, absolutely not. Who wants to watch Randy and Kara poke fun at all the outrageous people? Simon is the one that made that work. Simon is what people go to the auditions to see. I’m worried for American Idol after Simon exits. He is the biggest draw to the show.”

Megan’s outlook is slightly more upbeat. “I can’t see Idol ever being the same again once Simon is gone, but now we will have two new shows to look forward to,” she explains, referring to Simon’s decision to leave AI for the new American edition of UK hit The X Factor. “It will be crazy!”

Speaking of emotions, we asked the panel what it’s like now that they’ve transitioned from Idol finalists to Idol watchers. “Any time I hear the Idol theme music, my stomach does a little turn,” says Anoop. “That simple jingle makes me feel like I’m about to go on stage and sing in front of the country… It’s been more than a year since I auditioned, but I still remember the waiting, the uncertainty, and the stress of the first one. I definitely feel for all of the singers — good and bad.”

Confesses Megan about watching the premiere, “I felt pretty emotional the whole time watching. I even dropped a couple tears a couple times. It brought back all of the emotions (excited, nervous, scared, so many things) of what it felt like to be standing in front of them… Too wild. I also just felt extreme love and appreciation.”

Despite being the youngest member of the Idol Round Table, Mikalah, who was only 16 when she auditioned for the show, is the veteran of the bunch. “Since today is my 22nd birthday, it has finally hit me that it has been five years since I was in their spot,” she recalls. “I have excited emotions for everyone auditioning, but also sad because only one person gets to win.”

That’s it for this week, check back every week for more from OK!’s Idol Round Table.
Also in this issue:
• Everything you need to know about Carrie Underwood‘s wedding!
• The feud between Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie is just getting worse.
• Tag along with Jersey Shore‘s Ronnie and Sammi on their romantic night out in NYC!
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