American Idol Premiere Recap: Bleeping Up With the Kardashians

As somebody who’s been covering American Idol since the days of Bo-vs.-Carrie — don’t judge me, but I was staunchly #TeamBo — I’ll admit I’d hoped to begin my recap of the show’s farewell-season premiere by quoting Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” (No, current Idol contenders, none of whom were born prior to 1985, Janet Jackson did not originate the lyric, “Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”)

But after Wednesday night’s Season 15 kickoff dealt us the possible/likely implosion of a young couple’s marriage, yet another not-so-subtle attempt by Harry Connick Jr. to spin his judging gig into an ABC Friday-night sitcom and a particularly pointless promotional spot for The Kim and Kanye Reality-Industrial Vomplex, maybe it really is time to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

OK, OK, I swear on the Fantasia Barrino songbook — and Haley Reinhart’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” — that I don’t 100 percent endorse that blasphemous declaration.

The music business, the reality TV landscape, the color and texture of Ryan Seacrest’s locks have all changed considerably since The House That Kelly Clarkson Built was erected in 2002. And yet there’s still something undeniably alluring about the idea that one more ridiculously talented kid from the intersection of Nowhere and Never Gonna Be could use Fox’s reality singing competition as a springboard to a legitimate chart-topping, Grammy-nominated, household-name type of career.

And so we tune in. And then tune out (with horror!) when Kimye make their unwelcome appearance (and make laughable Keith Urban’s claim about Idol bucking the trend that there are “not a lot of shows you can watch as a family”). And we’re all done with this show, dagnabit! But then along comes an off-the-grid teenager (whose family only runs its generator during Idol episodes… or so they claim) with her cello, her originality and her outsize confidence and, suddenly, we’re wondering — Lorax-style — “unless…”

BUT LET ME NOT GET WEEPY! (I can listen to Melinda Doolittle’s rendition of “Home” if the urge takes over.) And let me not say another word about the last five minutes of the hour being devoted to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and his wife’s carefully rehearsed amusement.

Instead, let’s weigh in on the 14 hopefuls who are bound for Hollywood Week after tonight’s one-hour launch — ranked in order from least- to most-promising.

14. Lee Jean, “I See Fire” | Sweet kid with decent guitar skills and a heartbreaking backstory about the death of his teenage brother. None of which, however, was really enough to overcome what Harry Connick Jr. himself noted were issues with “basic singing in tune.”

13. Josiah Siska, “Ghost Riders” | Classic country lover hit some impressive low notes on his Johnny Cash cover, but there wasn’t any real depth, emotionally speaking, in his occasionally wobbly performance.

12. Reanna Molinaro, “Leavin on Your Mind” | Aside from Harry Connick Jr. hijacking her audition by judging it in handcuffs, you won’t remember much of this New Mexico police officer’s Patsy Cline cover by the weekend.

11. Jordan Sasser, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” | He may not have deserved his wife’s vitriol after he got through to Hollywood and she didn’t — I mean, that bit about how he danced with their baby while she sang had me hoping her next TV appearance will be on Iyanla: Fix My Life — but I’m not sure he deserved a Golden Ticket based on his overwrought Celine Dion cover, either.

10. Laurel Wright, “Follow Your Arrow” | Shown in montage, this returning auditioner was solid — and picked a fine song – but not especially memorable.

9. Michelle Marie, “Blue” | Of course producers kicked off the Season 15 auditions with a hyper 15-year-old dropping sound bites like “American Idol is what I’ve built my life off of” and listing the show’s 14 prior champs. Dubious as that description might sound, though, the tutu-wearing kid’s rendition of “Blue” was sweet and Evian-clear — although it was about as distinctive as bottled water, too.

8. Kerry Courtney, “Black Sun” | Kerry — who shares his story of losing his mother as a teen — presented a curious conundrum. Technically, his performance was riddled with flaws, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t occasionally hypnotizing. J.Lo’s right — dude could use 50% fewer menacing facial expressions, but I’d rather see his kind of unique style in the Top 24 than some soon-to-fizzle 15-year-old with no artistic POV whatsoever.

7. Sonika Vaid, “Look at Me” | I agreed with the judges that her straightforward style and lack of reliance on runs was refreshing, but I didn’t hear enough genuine fire in her phrasing and delivery to make me agree with their assessment that she’s a potential winner.

6. Shelbie “Z” James, “Last Name” | Shout “Hey y’all!” if you remember Shelbie from Season 5 of The Voice. (She performed “Last Name” there, too!) The spunky cosmetologist hasn’t lost an ounce of vocal horsepower since her brief run on NBC’s reality show, but she also hasn’t learned much about the power of dynamics, of not cranking her volume up to 10 and staying there through the duration of a performance. Here’s hoping she proves a quick study of light and shading in Hollywood Week.

5. Shevonne Philidor, “Latch” | One of three returning contestants relegated to a montage, but what I heard of her gruff, fiery tone left me rather intrigued.

4. Lindita, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” | Kosovo-born personal trainer was oblivious to Harry’s shady comment about enjoying how she sticks to the melody, but honestly, her Xtina-inspired runs, while excessive, were pretty damn on-point. Better to swing for the fences and pull your shoulder muscle than to bunt with nobody noticing, yes?

3. Joshua Wicker, “Stay” | Handsome worship leader with a verrry pregnant wife really did sing Rihanna’s best ballad like he’d written it himself (Keith really is astute, when he’s given a chance to talk). And while he maybe overdid it by 10 percent with the squeaks and breaks in his vocal, it’s always easier to dial back than to create something from nothing. If the judges put him through to the voting rounds — and he reaffirms his ability to sing in tune on the live stage — he could go very deep into the competition.

2. Kory Wheeler, “Bennie and the Jets” | Last year’s Golden Ticket recipient got squeezed into a three-person montage, but I loved the soul and spot-on pitch he brought to a song that — in Idol lore — was a tribute to Haley Reinhart’s Season 10 breakout moment.

1. Jeneve Rose Mitchell, “Chainsaw” | Back in Idol‘s early seasons, an Oregon farm girl living “off the grid” would’ve been fodder for Simon Cowell’s cruelest barbs. In 2016, though, The House on Which Fantasia Raised the Roof is more inclusive — with plenty of room for Jeneve’s cello, overalls, boots and cowboy hat. Thank goodness, too, seeing how her funkalicious fiddling, lightning quick phrasing and ability to capture the humor and feistiness of her lyrics were mesmerizing. Jeneve may not win the whole thing, but she sure won the night.

On that note, I pass the mic to you! What did you think of the American Idol Season 15 premiere? Grade it in our poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts! Oh, and please come back to TVLine all season long for wall-to-wall Idol coverage — plus a brand-new season of our not-quite-Emmy-nominated Web series Reality Check starring yours truly and the incomparable Melinda Doolittle!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Kim Moores says:

    The awful fiddle girl is at the top of your list while Sonika, the girl with the voice that could end all conflict in the Middle east, is 7?
    Da hell?

    • Florence+TheMachineRULEZ!!! #TeamMariah says:

      At least Lindita made it in 4th. But yeah odd rankings. Do you know who emily Brooke is? That’s the one I’m definetly rooting for

    • girl_3 says:

      Michael may have broken into the chardonnay a little early. I thought the exact same thing you did. Sonika was absolutely sublime.

      • Florence+TheMachineRULEZ!!! #TeamMariah says:

        Lol, but seriously sonika was at least top 3 for me along with Lindita and shelbie

        • Angie_Overrated says:

          i’d agree with those top 3. All three women were excellent. I liked one or two of the guys, but those 3 women had it going on.

        • Lemon says:

          Lindita has great potential, but she’ll need to modernize her singing style. Endless runs are like 70’s clothing–very much of their time, and dated, not classic.

          • Florence+TheMachineRULEZ!!! #TeamMariah says:

            I agree, all she has to do is just reign it in a little bit cause she’s got everything going for her, the voice, the clarity, the look, and the presence

    • Angie_Overrated says:

      Sonika’s voice was damn pretty. A lot of good ones tonight. Man with cute baby, Moldovan personal trainer, Sonika, Shelbie from The Voice, Lee Jean, etc.
      Notice how awful fiddle girl is not on this list. Yeah. That was all kinds of wrongitude.

      • Becca says:

        The fiddle girl, No, just no. lol By the way Angie, you’re the one with the Sharpei’s, right? Me too!

        • Angie_Overrated says:

          I do in fact have an 8 year old sharpei! She’s a woman who doesn’t like much company, but we force her to love us and bribe her with food for cuddles. They are not known for being the most sociable dogs, are they? :)

      • Lemon says:

        I’m convinced that Michael is rhapsodizing over Jeneve for the clicks. Keeps people on the site–commenting. Take away her kitsch and quirks, and you’ve got someone without much of a voice. See her YouTube channel for further evidence. Sonika’s voice is really pretty–she was my favorite for the night.

        • Kayk says:

          Mine too, by quite a lot!

        • Velocisexual says:

          ” See her YouTube channel for further evidence.” b-b-but how can she have a youtube channel if she’s living off the grid? They only turn their generators on for American Idol for Pete’s sake…


          • Puchinsmom says:

            That was some nice big flat screen they have that only gets used for American Idol!? But she was cute and interesting to listen to. Personally, for me, there was too much country, last night. But that’s just me.
            And Sonika was my favorite by far, But I agree with Michael that the married couple made for some very uncomfortable viewing.

          • Alan Dvorkis says:


    • Mike C. says:

      Could not agree more. Slezak, what are you smoking? Sonika was head and shoulders above everyone else tonight. Wasn’t even close!

    • Beverly says:

      Agree, Michael are you smoking the drapes? Girl had zero musicality IMO. Puleeze.

      • Becca says:

        I think Michael made a mistake, I live in Oregon, and yes we have a Saddle Mountain, but I looked the fiddle girl up, and they said she is from a Saddle Mountain in Colorado, She also won the 2013 Country singer contest of some sort. I’m not a fan though, I like Kerry Courtney, I thought he was brilliant, Oh, and the pregnant girls hubby, very good.

      • Ben says:

        Anyone who thinks she had zero musicality doesn’t actually know what musicality is. She might not have a voice that is up to it, and some people might not like her persona, but as far as musicality goes, she was absolutely in a class with the best.

        Sonika also was basically perfect in every way, and should have been first.

        Also, since when is a cello a fiddle?

  2. Florence+TheMachineRULEZ!!! #TeamMariah says:

    Favorites were easily Lindita!!! 😍😍😍, shelbie z, sonika, and Michelle. Also looking for Emily Brooke, Laporsha renae, Jenna Renae, and Olivia rox

  3. Mike says:

    I love IDOL. I’ll miss this.

  4. Jobless says:

    Putting Sonika at #7 is as embarassing as anything that happened on the show tonight.

    • Timmah says:

      Sonika was the one bright spot in what I thought was a pretty terrible opening show.

      • Cooper McMann says:

        I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I almost stopped watching when Michelle Marie started things off. She looks and acts like a Meme – a Joke. I feel like I’ve seen her on ifunny before. Also, when I think of an “American Idol” I think of someone like Chris Daughtry or Kelly Clarkson. Someone who is out there touring, having number one songs, etc. This was like “Country Idol”. I hate country, so that’s a big turn off for me. Sonika looked like she had the whole “Superstar” package.

  5. karenb says:

    Hey I really liked Lee Jean! Wayyy too much country in this episode. #no

    • Angie_Overrated says:

      I thought the list might be from best to worst when I saw who the bookends were. Lee Jean was damn good.

      • danin says:

        LeeJean, really? I thought he was this year’s Daniel Seavey. Really liked Sonic’s though and baby Daddy guy w/the crying wife(they would have loved her on the Voice). And liked church leader youth guy.

        • Angie_Overrated says:

          Tried posting earlier, but I guess it got deleted.
          Lee Jean reminds me of a young male Tracy Chapman. That tone is money, and if he can stop losing the pitch on the descending phrases, he has a future in this competition.
          Sonikia was a treat. I loved her tone so very much. I also enjoyd Daddy w/ crying wife even if Slezak hated him.
          Wasn’t into church leader youth guy. I actually ff’d through his song. Yes, as Keith noted, he sang the song as if it were his own, but that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t enjoy how he made it his own. The phrasing was very strange to my ears, and I found it ultimately very unmusical.

        • Ben says:

          I closed my eyes and he was actually relatively undistinguishable from Daniel Seavey. Very similar.

  6. Kaba says:

    I’m probably one of the few people that enjoyed the crap out of Kanye at the end lol.
    Was rapping Golddigger with him.

  7. Ginger Snap says:

    Only performer I want to hear again is Sonika. Nothing wrong with keeping it pure and simple.
    The rest are just meh and fodder for me.

    • kevstar says:

      You’ll be happy to know Sonika makes it into the top 24. Don’t know about the names.

      • Ginger Snap says:

        Yes, I saw that. She’s got my vote all the way through

      • Angela says:

        Aw, really? Wonderful. I look forward to seeing more of her, then.

        • kevstar says:

          As a worship leader, Jordan’s wife sure turned “un-Christian” when he made it and she didn’t, you know with her being the “better singer” and all. Lol

          • Angela says:

            That whole thing was so awkward. I agree with Michael that the husband really shouldn’t have been sent through, either, but…yeah. I have a sinking feeling this isn’t the last time we’ll see some drama regarding that couple depending on how long Jordan stays in the competition. Yaaaaay.

      • Michael Slezak says:

        Please no Top 24 spoilers in the TVLine comments. Thank you. -The Management

        • kevstar says:

          Makes ZERO sense to get wrapped up in people who don’t make it through, though. Waste of time.

          • Michael Slezak says:

            There are plenty of sites that post spoilers — and Idoloonies can easily find them if they choose — so please respect that it’s TVLine’s policy not to give that away in articles or comments. Thank you.

          • JMay says:

            It may not make sense, but some of us like talking about the might-have-beens, thank you very much.

          • Ben says:

            Michael would have no righteous snub-anger if he didn’t get invested in people who weren’t going to make it.

        • karenb says:

          Thank you Slezak. I don’t appreciate giving up 4 hours of my life to a show and then come on here and have someone spoil the whole dang thing.

      • Kayk says:

        Awww, I needed a spoiler alert! Guess I better not read on, disappointing to run across info on who goes through to the top 24 when I enjoy watching for myself to find out :(

      • Puchinsmom says:

        I like being surprised. PLEASE, if you must talk about future episodes, can you put a spoiler alert tag on it. Please!

  8. Davey says:

    I thought Sonika was very good and so did Carrie Underwood on Twitter. I actually switched channels when the off the grid girl started singing.

  9. Tom says:

    That comment by JLo and Harry about Lindita: “She sings like a big girl” “Guess she didn’t lose that part” was really really bad. I immediately thought that was Maleficent level Reality Check fodder.

    • Florence+TheMachineRULEZ!!! #TeamMariah says:

      Same it felt really odd and sad at the same time. Let’s just hope Lindita is stronger than that and powers through Hollywood and whatever idol throws at her

  10. Tom says:

    Did anyone see Jax’s new music video for her single that she coincidentally dropped this evening before the East Coast premiere of idol? Everyone needs to watch. I’m sorry, but don’t bite the hand that feeds, boo boo. You were given a great platform and you look like a sore loser for calling out the show that gave you that platform.

    • JMay says:

      I think the song and video are outstanding. Go Jax!

    • Larc says:

      I don’t believe Jax is nearly as special as she appears to think she is.

    • Jean says:

      I agree that Jax came off bitter in her music video. Towards the end it seems she feels the producers are the ones that decided to eliminate her but it doesn’t make sense because the producers and Scott clearly wanted her to win. I don’t blame her for being upset of how she was eliminated but to have an entire song about what she didn’t like about the show that helped her seems a little too much.

    • lizzie says:

      Jax is terrible.

    • HTGR says:

      I don’t know. I don’t mind it. And it’s not like it’s not the actual truth, at the very least in generalities. These shows are fake and manipulated (as much as some still want to believe otherwise).

      That said, I know one isn’t supposed to do things like this and many who do get punished one way or another so it can end up just being like shooting yourself in the foot.

      One, there are many jealous people who just don’t wanna hear truth and want anyone to just take any opportunity they are given and eat it up even if they are ultimately sc#$$d, but they don’t care what happens to anyone, they just like their fantasyland and again, are too jealous too handle anyone getting any opportunity beyond what they have personally gotten and complain about anything about it, no matter what. And then there are those who sc##$$w people as bosses and are fearful of anyone who speaks out.

      But the fact is these shows do have so much fakeness behind them. I’ve said it from early on and been hated on for pointing out how utterly manipulated and phony so much of what goes down on these shows, especially this one once it got going. I’m kinda tired of all the you are given this awesome opportunity and no matter how badly you get bused or this or that you should just sit there and smile like a good little girl (or guy) thing. And yeah I know there is just the keep your mouth shut, take the high road, and win and get the ultimate revenge in the end and there is something to be said for that, but it’s not often actually pulled off in such industries.

      Idol has had a history at times of not just pushing forward those they want but trying to literally destroy an sabotage contestants in ways that do permanent harm to a contestant’s q factor. So I can’t hold it against someone for taking them down. The Voice has it’s own tricks, but they generally at least try to do things in a way where they don’t trash someone’s q factor and try to make a point to at least not do that.

      The song was catchy enough and the video worked. Hey I liked it. I’m still a fan.

    • HTGR says:

      Another thing you should also take into account. Notice anyone else in the video who looks familiar? Notice actually a number in fact? Realize there were even more behind the scenes helping? Don’t you think that says something…. just putting that out there….

    • HTGR says:

      And she does attach a long note to the video also offering plenty of thanks and gratefulness for everything too.

    • HTGR says:

      And watch say the WPLJ interview on youtube and so on and you’ll get a more nuanced take on it all.

  11. JMay says:

    I liked tonight’s episode, but it really real, really quick with the insane level of awkwardness between Jordan and his wife. That actually depressed the heck out of me. On the plus side joshua wicker was amazing.

    • HTGR says:

      Yeah that was kind of sad to see. One can just hope they producers were egging it on half to mostly scripted (which actually very well may be the case, these shows can at times, be at lot more scripted than you think) and not something completely real and especially not something the producers will egg on for drama and ratings (since shows like this have often been known to gladly take such dirty low roads for drama).
      I actually though he sang better than Michael gave him credit for.

  12. Larc says:

    Thought there were more bad moments than good in tonight’s show, many of the bad ones due to the judges. I hope it’s not a preview of this season’s quality. If it is, I think we’re in for a rough ride.

    • Timmah says:

      This panel is awful because they think they are the show. I wish they’d have brought back Simon Paula and yes, even Randy for the farewell season. Would have been so much better than these clowns.

    • Meg says:

      Was so hoping emphasis would be on contestants not judges this last year. Jennifer sprawled across desk was so inappropriate for this setting. Have seen her on various shows recently talking about Vegas show and tv show she is in. No mention of Idol. Obviously it is low in importance to her other than the millons they pay her.

  13. Michael Mario says:

    Kerry Courtney’s rendition of “Black Sun” was awesome! He’s got the weird, menacing vibe of Jake Gyllenhaal from Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler and/ or Enemy. Scary but brilliant!

    • Becca says:

      Oh Yes, I thought Kerry Courtney was weird and dark, interesting,, and I thought his voice was great. Very sinister, but hes the only one that made me feel something.

  14. Hamish says:

    I don’t understand the love for Shelbie Z. She has about a half-octave range, and the volume was cranked up to 11. No subtlety at all.

  15. Steve F. says:

    What, no comment about how this was one of the few times Kanye West was – gasp – SMILING on camera?!? (My girlfriend noticed it before I did… and I realized she was right.) That said, I actually thought that performance of “Gold Digger” without the background vocal or beat was pretty good stripped down to its basics. (Now if he can only do that with the rest of his music career…)

    As for the contestants – man, I felt bad for Jordan Sasser after his wife dropped that guilt trip on him. However, I thought Joshua Wicker was more of a solid performer. While I liked Lindita, Sonika won my vote for best of the night (and whatever you’re drinking, Slezak, I’ll have some; girl deserved to be ranked higher than seventh).

  16. Ruthi says:

    Okay, I honestly shut it off after the husband and wife sing-off- that was brutal to watch. Especially when I completely disagreed with the judges. I thought the wife had the way better voice, yes she was a little smiley- but you can dial that back. She had a pretty tone, and sang on key- that’s harder to teach., I didn’t care for Jordan at all- I thought he pretty terrible, and kudos to the wife for being to hold it together as long as she did.

    Other notables during my time watching were: Sonika- she was my #1, she had a lovely tone- I loved her rasp, and Lindita. She blew me away when she started singng, just wow! (And for the record: I DVR’d it, I’ll watch the rest tonight.:). As always, a great recap my friend!

    • Ben says:

      The wife should have gone through, yeah.

    • Morisot says:

      I think I have to bring balance to this thread. The wife’s singing and playing that ukulele hurt my ears. The husband’s singing was such a relief, strong and mellow. I thought the judges were trying to let her down gently by saying there were “a lot of distractions” — and her reaction was so mean, blaming her husband! (But I think she would be a good nursery school teacher.)

    • Ann says:

      I was surprised they didn’t ask her to sing a different tune like they had done in the past with others. She sang like someone who was singing to a group of preschoolers.

  17. John says:

    I was struck by a lack of talent that really stood out. Jeneve was too gimmicky for me, and Sonika was good but not memorable. I’m with Michael that the three returning singers were the most interesting folks of the night for me.

  18. marie says:

    When is Reality Check starting? Will installments (usually) premiere on Mondays (if I remember correctly; I could be mistaken) as in past seasons? Feeling a little nostalgic already about this being the last Idol season, but really looking forward to the interplay of Michael and Melinda – the best accompaniment to the show I could ever ask for.

  19. Ben says:

    I found really interesting Jeneve performance (but she seem to be too green for Idol), and i like Lindita, Jordan and Shelbie Z too.. the rest was just fine.

    Wait.. not a single comment about “the fourteen.. Nick Farandi or however” issue?. WTH was Borchetta thinking.. this final season should be all about the last american idol winner… it was really awkward for me to have Nick over there after a year without his album… regardless the tour and the news about the current status of his album it felt like a failure.

  20. Lking says:

    I tend to get lost in the judges comments but did like a couple from last night and looking forward to more. Nice seeing the Idols helping out. I guess Seacrest cannot help but trot out the goose that layed the golden egg. Hope I do t get banned but must we compare everyone with Hailey?

  21. Kathy Bowman says:

    Looking forward to Reality Check, it really is my favorite reason to even watch American Idol. I absolutely dislike Kanye and didn’t see the point of having him on the show. Just so you know, sometimes I DVR American Idol and barely watch it, but I never miss Reality Check and all of its predecessors. Please continue to have a reason to do that show- there must be another reality singing show besides the Voice…

  22. Ann Hebert says:

    Hated Kanye west song that had to be bleeped throughout. Not family friendly and just another publicity grab.

  23. lorie says:

    Kerry Courtney has some beautiful songs on Youtube, like “Mental Illness”. He may or may not go far on the show, but hopefully he’ll gain a lot of new fans.

  24. It was a two hour premiere not one hour launch,

  25. If you can’t sing in tune, you can’t sing!!

  26. Redvelvet says:

    Very disappointing. .