American Idol is back, with a new host of hopefuls

Nearly eight months since

Scotty McCreery

became America's latest Idol in May 2011, it's good to have the cast of

American Idol
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2.0 back in action. To wit,

Ryan Seacrest

is still the world's most annoyingly good host;

Jennifer Lopez

has managed to get her combo

Paula Abdul


Kara DioGuardi


Ellen Degeneres

composite act nailed down pat;

Steven Tyler

still makes the faces that leave you assuming he may be having a stroke under his weird-ass hat; and then there's

Randy Jackson

, who, in

Simon Cowell

's absence, fills the patriarch role of this TV family quite well.

Last night's premiere of Season 11 took us to Savannah, Georgia, as we witnessed the first wave of Idol hopefuls making a case for why they deserved to go to Hollywood. It was clear which ones should have been pushed through to the next round and which should be sent packing. What wasn't always clear, though, was what Tyler was trying to say.

But that's the best part of this first round of Idol. The auditions are so awkwardly engaging that you can't help but admire the bravado of these awful singers, daring to embarrass themselves in front of all of America, and the way the judges have to address it. It's like watching a train wreck on repeat...on repeat... on repeat...

Not all of the contestants last night were bad, though. Gabi Carruba, sixteen, who has been watching Idol since it first began -- so when she was five, if you don't feel like doing the math -- sang Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning," giving Adam Levine a run for his money.

Phillip Phillips (ignore the double name), age twenty, meanwhile, did an excellent, country-fied rendition (if there is such a thing) of "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder and an equally great guitar-led take on "Thriller." And David Leathers, also a young 'un at seventeen (but looks like he's twelve, as J.Lo told him) had a great audition with 21st Century's "Remember The Rain" and then a young Michael Jackson track. Interesting sidenote: Turns out Leather competed against McCreery when they were much younger -- and won. Small world.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Idol without the occasional moving back story. Exhibit A: The could-be rags-to-riches story for Amy Brunfield, 24, from Tennessee. Brunfield lives in the woods with her boyfriend. They don't have enough money to afford renting a hotel room anywhere, so they make do by living in a tent instead. She, of course, can sing Alicia Keys' "Superwoman" well enough to make it to Hollywood. After devoting so much air time to the woman, we wouldn't expect anything less.

The auditions round of American Idol continues tonight at 8 p.m. Look for a recap tomorrow morning.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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