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'American Idol:' The Stuart Smalley edition

New "American Idol" judges Steven Tyler, second from

New "American Idol" judges Steven Tyler, second from right, and Jennifer Lopez, second from left, appear with returning judge Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest. (Sept. 22, 2010) Credit: Fox

Well, the game has started: the tenth season of "American Idol."

What do we think? Read my wrap below, if you like, but I'd also urge you to read the write up by my esteemed colleague Jamshid Mousavinezhad  who knows more about "Idol" than I know about "Idol."  By far. He offers a flat-out rave. I offer a flat-out pan -- with reservations. (Not many reservations though.) Viva la difference.

What have they done to "American Idol" -- "they" being some worldwide conspiracy calculated to make us actually MISS Simon Cowell?

New open. New judges. New tone. Even new Randy (he's lost weight, wears ties, and preppy sweaters with the mysterious letter "H" emblazoned on it.)

In fact, let's start with the judges, because the alchemy of "Idol" is so entirely dependent on that threesome who are now largely a new threesome. Steven "Needs No Introduction" Tyler actually said he wants to find "the next Janis Joplin." Who (85 percent of the audience said) is "Janis Joplin?" He was loose as a goose, and a goose would have been as comprehensible at times.

To one contestant who is not going to Hollywood: "Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child." In some remote corner of our collective brain, we assumed he would be the New Simon; Steven Tyler is not the New Simon.

Then, Jennifer Lopez. She was gorgeous: A model for a shampoo commercial who tossed her hennaed locks on the director's cue. And perfect teeth. What teeth! Forget the teeth: The new queen of "Idol" even remembered a recidivist contestant from some distant past season, saying that "me and Marc . . ." Instant buzz kill.

"I think I'm going to be compassionate," said she. "I'm not in the business of crushing spirits."

That statement of course lies at the heart of the New "Idol." Like New Coke, it's sweeter, gentler on the palate, and much better than the Old Coke, or so the Coca-Cola Co. once declared. But the obvious problem is that the Old "Idol" was an obstacle course, through which a nobody ran the gauntlet of three specific personalities and then hopefully emerged as a major star during the May sweeps. But so far, season 10 is shaping up to be “Idol’s” Stuart Smalley edition -- contestants are good enough, smart enough, and doggonit, people are gonna like them. We'll see.

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