Ideally, an American Idol earns the title with the voice and the elusive IT factor.
That's the way it's supposed to play out anyway, although it rarely works out that way.
Season nine opened Tuesday night in the usual two-hour manner with auditions held in Boston and everything interesting and dramatic about Idol this season -- the first without Paula Abdul, the last with Simon Cowell, the addition of comic Ellen DeGeneres as judge -- didn't materialize. All of that drama won't reveal itself on camera until the live show starts sometime in February.
Tuesday was rich with backstories and though we've heard variations of the type every year it still would take a hard soul not to feel a twinge in the tear ducts for the 16-year-olds with the golden voices, Maddy Curtis (above) and Katie Stevens.
Maddy is the ninth of 12 children and her family adopted three children with Down's Syndrome.
Katie's grandmother battles Alzheimers and Katie so wants to make her proud before it's too late. When she earned her Golden Ticket to Hollywood and called grandma on the phone and told her in Portuguese that she had made it to the next round, even Ryan seemed teary.
For 16, both have impressive voices. Both sing in tune, both have a pure tone and both sing beyond their years. But the IT factor necessary to turn either into stars? Probably not. That's not to say they won't advance into the finals or even win the whole show. Last year's victor Kris Allen will never be a star, even Simon said so early on, but that didn't stop IT-less Kris from winning over Adam Lambert who is a star -- whether his album sells millions or not.
That was the problem with Idol:9's opening. A lot of feel good stories and solid singing but no sizzle or superstars yet. It was all very ... nice. The most fun we had was sharing an Italian meal with the gregarious Amadeo Diricco (above.) I don't want his rendition of Hoochie Coochie Man on my iPod (or anyone's, really) but he had something many did not: a personality. It's not IT but it's entertaining in 2 minute audition performances.
Justin Williams made it to Hollywood last season and sang with Kris Allen and Matt Giraud as part of "White Chocolate" but failed to make it any further. Tonight, his tale of surviving cancer seven years ago, his good looks, and his vocal range on the standard Feeling Good (popularized recently by Michael Buble and, last season, by a dramatic entrance from Adam Lambert) felt really good.
Speaking of looks, Ashley Rodriguez is a looker with a capital "L" and though her voice on Alicia Keys' hit proves too mainstream commercial (code for generic) for my tastes, she wowed the judges and seems a lock for Top 24. Heck, she's going to make the finals. I'm not complaining. I don't have to buy her resulting album. Who buys Idols' albums anyway? She might even find her own vocal style and wow me. Did I mention she's a looker?
Otherwise, the guy who fell out of a tree and busted both hands (Tyler Grady) was the kind of '70s throwback I dig (hey, it's my blog, I'm entitled) but I'm not yet ready to pitch a fit if I can't get through to vote for any of these people just yet.
Tomorrow night we head to Atlanta and I'll be back on live duty offering running commentary on Twitter (@HowardCohen) and a blog wrapup. Join me.