February 14, 2011 12:00 PM

American Idol

FOX, Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT | 3

REALITY

I thought the end was nigh. I thought the sky was falling. I thought the earth would open up and swallow Clay Aiken. But it turns out Idol can function, fairly well, without Simon Cowell as its acerbic voice of reason. The judges’ panel, now down to three, consists of vet Randy Jackson and newcomers Jennifer Lopez and rocker Steven Tyler. Lopez shimmers with star presence, as if she’s been hand-fed crushed jewels, while projecting sweetness and humility-her butterfly persona works. Tyler is the real surprise: Looking like something Lewis Carroll forgot to include in Alice in Wonderland, he’s provocatively outrageous, whether making odd, flirty comments or seasoning his praise with bleeped-out obscenities. Or saying things like: “From my melodic sensibility it was very delicious.” He couldn’t be more entertaining if he were being played by James Franco.

Jackson had been expected to take on the stern tones of Cowell but, as usual, doesn’t add much-the newbies eclipse him. We’ll see how season 10 holds up once the chosen contestants move on to Hollywood, but for now Idol remains firmly on its pedestal.

Piers Morgan Tonight

CNN, weeknights, 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT | 2.5

TALK

Piers Morgan’s first nights filling Larry King’s suspenders weren’t great. As he greeted star guests like Oprah Winfrey with self-congratulatory pomp and giddiness, you felt maybe he’d been harder-hitting on America’s Got Talent. I detected no irony when he called newly slim Ricky Gervais a “glamour pinup.” He’s better-thorough, thoughtful-with serious figures like Rudolph Giuliani.

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