"Sheriff, this is no time to panic!"
"This is a PERFECT time to panic!!"
— Buzz and Woody, Toy Story
Painful, wasn't it? We fully expected a few of the contestants to crash and burn on Opening Night, as is standard operating procedure at American Idol every February. But, we doubt very many people expected a mess of that magnitude. Season Nine kicked off with a week in which just nine of the 24 semifinalists turned in a performance above 50, and one out of four couldn't even make it out of one-star range. This wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we praised the producers last weekend for setting up what looked to be a very promising ensemble.
Here are the cold, ugly numbers. The Top 12 girls had an average approval rating of 43.3 which, believe it or not, isn't all that far off the historical average for debut performances (it's 44.7, if you're curious.) But the Top 12 guys...hoo-boy. Their average rating of 37.0 puts them third from the bottom among the 129 American Idol episodes to date. In fact, it was the lowest-rated episode in six years. Poor Tim Urban might have been better off if he'd declined 19E's invitation to return, as his rocky rendition of Apologize came in at a miniscule 4. That gives him an uncoveted spot in the all-time WNTS Bottom 10, where he joins the likes of Jesus Roman, Leah LaBelle, John Stevens, and a pre-Nashville Kelly Pickler. Although we're sure they're very nice people, this isn't the company you want to keep if your objective is to enjoy a confetti shower come May.
As one would expect, the Idolsphere is up in arms this weekend. "Worst Top 24 Ever?" is a popular thread title on many boards, and no shortage of bloggers are threatening to throw in the towel on the season after just one week. Again, this isn't all that unusual. We viewers naturally tend to compare each episode to the ones that immediately preceded it, and that means every Opening Night is judged against the final few shows of the previous season, in which only the best contestants remained. Thus, Mr. Lightyear is correct: this is certainly not the time to panic.
Actually, we did see a few things we liked this week. Interesting arrangements (even if the vocals that accompanied them were quite terrible), fresher song choices, and even some relatively sane and helpful critiques from the judges...save for a couple of utterly inane artist suggestions from Kara, that is. Seriously now: Sixpence None The Richer and Bad Company?!? If there is a Leigh Nash or Paul Rodgers among this crew, they have done a spectacular job of camouflaging themselves. Heck, Janelle Wheeler and Tyler Grady tried taking on Ann Wilson and Burton Cummings, respectively. How'd that work out for them?
At any rate, it's way too early to pass judgment on Season Nine. We personally have never gone from singing at the local coffeehouse or regional theater to suddenly performing live in front of 25 million people who are listening intently for even the slightest slip-up. We'll wager you haven't either. If Week Two is as dismal as Week One, then by all means, head for the lifeboats. But if past Idol seasons are any guide, it's more likely that the contestants will be over their first-night jitters, and a few will head towards the stars.
- The WNTS.com Team