Of all the talented wackadoodles on this season of American Idol, including a gangly California surfer who looks like a Dr. Seuss character and a waifish, freckled, anxiety-ridden girl who sings to her Iraq veteran boyfriend up in the balcony, melodica-toting Casey Abrams is probably the most lovable. Scruffy and always grinning, Abrams skitters around to his own inner free jazz soundtrack, like someone who truly lives and breathes music (as if the others don’t).
During Thursday night’s solo tryout, which whittled down a couple of hundred hopefuls to just 50 in a process now known as Hell Week, Abrams introduced a double bass for a stunning rendition of “Georgia On My Mind,” which started off sneakily slow with no band help, probably making the song unrecognizable to a swath of viewers. But then it exploded like a firework, and was gone before we’d even taken the whole thing in. Such is the nature of Idol, which always feels like a tornado-dream of Ford ads, blaring synthesizer intro music and frightened faces. It is the most frustrating editing job on television.
They have to say this, but the made-over Idol crew told the contestants last night that this is one of the most competitive seasons they’ve ever had, if not the most competitive, and it’s true. Even casual viewers of this show were expecting the new judging configuration of J. Lo and Steven Tyler to fall flat, but what it’s actually done is made the show more worthwhile for everyone involved than it’s been in years (and years). It’s also brought something out in the contestants that Simon Cowell may, in seasons past, have scared away: passion, zeal, and creativity.
True, people like Casey Abrams have always been hanging around this show, doing their thing, but the presence of these two new judges has brought something familial and fun that in the past has been as infrequent to the show as Coke and Ford placements have been overbearing. As a bonus to the contestants and the viewers, we’re getting to see who Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler actually are — something we didn’t even know we wanted to do. But you know, we do.