American Idol, the phenom that helped to forever define musical milieu and cultural temperature of the aughts, returned Tuesday night for its first episode of the teens and hit the ground running in hopes of proving that the show still has legs amid steadily falling ratings, the disappearance of its worst but most car-crash-fascinating judge and, just announced this week, the end-of-season skedaddle of head judge Simon Cowell. The show shakes things up this year—Randy Jackson promises “interesting wrinkles”, quite a commitment, but one of them, of course, is Paula’s replacement, the sweet and likeable Ellen Degeneres, whose experience evaluating music mostly involves dancing in the aisles during her talk show.
Bringing in Ellen is like having Dennis Miller provide color commentary for Monday Night Football, and part of the fun this season will be in seeing if her seat at the table turns out to be the payoff the show badly needs. Ellen hasn’t arrived yet, however; Tuesday’s airing gave us highlights and humiliations from one of the show’s massive auditions, this one in Boston. Instead, an emaciated Victoria Beckham, sat in as a fourth judge, cocking an odd stare at contestants. She was a fairly good Paula stand-in, offering the same sort of sympathetic support that Paula was famous for, perhaps because both Paula and Posh suffer from the sneaking self-awareness that they themselves can’t actually sing.