In the second night of its two-night season premiere, "American Idol" and its new, nattering judges panel -- Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and Randy Jackson -- went to Chicago in search of talent. They found some solid singers. Whether any of them would turn into the next Jennifer Hudson -- or even the next Haley Reinhart, who also first auditioned for the show in the Windy City -- remains to be seen.
As for the judges, they continue to talk at and over one another. Minaj seems ready to run the show and direct the focus and, despite some peculiar interludes, seems more or less up to the challenge. She generally has interesting, insightful and pleasingly varied things to say about the young people who traipse into the room to sing.
Carey, meanwhile, appears to want to be paid her diva due at the judging table as well as from the string of contestants (and contestants' friends) who show up eager to declare their longtime admiration. Urban just wants to go along and get along. And Jackson? His rate of unkind "Dude, singing is not for you" reality checks for contestants seems to be on the rise this year. Is he growing as bored and irritable with the whole "Idol" parade as many viewers are? (For proof, see Wednesday night's ratings.)
The auditioning contestants, though, were earnest and hopeful as ever. Making it through on Day One were Mackenzie Wasner, a Tennessee 17-year-old whose musician dad plays piano for Vince Gill (he used to call Mackenzie up on stage when she was little); Kiara Lanier, who had just sung for President Obama at the White House; Stephanie Schimel, whose "Dream a Little Dream" impressed all the judges except -- for reasons that may have had something to do with matching eye shadow -- Minaj; loud rock singer Gabe Brown; and fresh-faced 15-year-old Isabelle Parell.
Also going through that first day were good-looking Wisconsin guy Griffin Peterson, in whom, curiously, only the women on the panel saw potential; inspirational charter school teacher Curtis Finch Jr., who'd brought with him Carey's No. 1 fan (though it's still not clear if his pal was right about Mariah's favorite color); and recovering anorexic Mariah Pulice, whose story, singing and supportive family brought the judges to tears.
Sent to Hollywood on Day Two were Brandy Neelly, a 17-year-old who had been adopted by her aunt because her birth parents had "physical and emotional" issues; Josh Holiday, Courtney Williams and Andrew Jones, all seen too briefly to get a clear take on; Clifton Dufffin, whose mom and dad had never before heard him sing; Season 11 returnee Johnny Keyser, who seemed to have the same effect on Minaj he'd had on Jennifer Lopez; peculiarly compelling singer-songwriter Kez Ban, who confusedly tried to negotiate about paperwork with Ryan Seacrest; and last, but not least, Lazero Arbos, a Cuban-born Floridian who began stuttering at age 6 and is able to reliably stop only when he sings.
Deprived of their dreams, over the course of both days, were bedazzled-pink-stretchy-suit-clad Melissa Bush, who sang Mrs. Miller's "Downtown" and may or may not have been in on the joke; fast-talking stick juggler Kevin Nabity; Ieisha Cotton, who the judges said should stick to dancing; misguided yet persistent (and persistently loud) musical theater major Ashley Curry; and a string of unnamed "Miserables."
Overall, not a bad showing for Chi town. What did you think of the talent?