“American Idol” Returns on FOX

The democratic talent competition that is FOX's American Idol returned for its 12th season last night (Jan. 16) with a brand-new panel of judges and a whole new legion of hopeful contestants.

The episode, centered around tryouts in New York City, opened in typically dramatic fashion. Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips quietly carried his acoustic guitar onstage before an empty auditorium and began playing his world-conquering anthem "Home." A montage of his exciting journey flickered past. Judges Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj made rock-star entrances. Host Ryan Seacrest noted that Idol contestants have sold more than 200 million records and notched 371 No. 1 hits, in addition to landing big Broadway roles and even an Oscar win. So you, too, can follow in Phillip's, Carrie's or Kelly's footsteps (if you are incredibly talented, charismatic, and hardworking)!

Many people undoubtedly tuned in wondering if Mariah and Nicki would claw each other's eyes out, after rumors and leaked video of in-fighting. The pair mostly seemed mildly annoyed with each other, making little passive-aggressive jabs without resorting to full-on screaming. Our country boy Keith tried to play peacemaker and stay levelheaded, to his credit. We'll have to see how this develops in coming weeks.

The judges faced the usual mix of contestants: bona fide talents and bona fide oddballs, with very little in between. The three newbies were all pretty polite to contestants on the first night, but maybe they'll toughen up as the season wears on.

Notable hopefuls include Christina, who discussed her struggle with weight and performed a lovely "Summertime"; Frankie from Brooklyn, who sings on the subway to make ends meet (kudos to Idol producers for playing Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" when he got his golden ticket); and potential country singer Sarah from New Jersey, who sang Carrie Underwood's "Mama's Song," then shifted gears to rap Nicki Minaj's "Superbass."

The show gave FOX a clear win for the night with an 11.7 rating/18 share. Unfortunately, that figure was down from the 13.5 rating/21 share the show garnered in 2012, which was down from the year before.  

Check back in with CountryWeekly.com in the coming weeks to discuss all the action from American Idol season 12.

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