Can the new the American Idol judges fill Simon Cowell's shoes?

Credit: Michael Becker/Fox/PictureGroup

American Idol without Simon Cowell launched Wednesday. And what do we have, kids?

The new trio of judges, as a unit, came across less like judges and more like a morning news team. Jennifer Lopez‘s hair was immaculate, and Steven Tyler wore a colorfully clashing variety of patterns and jewelry. The back-and-forth with these two and old Idol hand Randy Jackson was comfortable filler that didn’t often register as opinion.

There was no Cowell to shatter the conversation as cleanly as a rock through a window, although Tyler at least is weirdly, arrestingly flip. He asked one all-over-the-map vocalist, “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?” Yet somehow he never came across as mean.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem appropriate that a judge should look at a 16-year-old girl and say appreciatively of her skirt, “Just the right amount showing, that’s nice.”

I wouldn’t have thought such a character would establish himself as the de facto head of the panel, and yet that’s what he seemed to be doing. It’s a bit like having someone from Spinal Tap piloting a jet. But there you go.

As for Lopez, I believe I’ve mentioned that her hair was immaculate. And she tried to be kind.

The two-hour premiere capitalized on the craze for Snooki and company by holding auditions in New Jersey. One singer epitomizing the current Garden State clichés, Tiffany Rios, performed a song of her own composition (about being on American Idol) with two silver stars strategically placed on her chest. She got put through to Hollywood. As Tyler put it, “You can really sing your tush-ella off.”

Other singers with enough potential to earn the gold pass were Victoria Huggins, a scarily effervescent teenager; Devyn Rush, a singing waitress; and Robbie Rosen, a 16-year-old student, once in a wheelchair. Other off-to-Hollywood inspirations were Brielle Von Hugel (her father, a former doo-wop singer, was treated for throat cancer) and Travis Orlando, who had a tough upbringing in the Bronx. He had one of the better voices – it has a nice flutter in it. A total of 51 singers were put through.

The night didn’t overdo the strange and the awful, which was a relief. So, now it’s here, this retooled Idol. If I could turn back time, to quote Cher – ah, but I can t. Thursday is on to New Orleans.