Last night's (Jan. 18) premiere of the fourth season of "American Idol" on Fox garnered a whopping 33 million U.S. viewers, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen.

Last night's (Jan. 18) premiere of the fourth season of "American Idol" on Fox garnered a whopping 33 million U.S. viewers, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research. That total is an increase of about 14% from last year's season premiere, which drew 29 million U.S. viewers.

The two-hour show featured plenty of high- and lowlights from auditions in Washington, D.C., last summer. Sugar Ray frontman/"Extra" co-host Mark McGrath joined judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson in evaluating prospective contestants, providing plenty of laughs along the way.

Among them were Derek Braxton and Aven Moore. The former, a cousin of R&B star Toni Braxton, endured blank faces from the panel after his audition. Moore performed "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie," his ridiculously long off-key notes meeting with an evaluation of "bizarrely dreadful" from Cowell.

Mary Gober's theatrical performance of "Hanky Panky" left more of an impression for its inclusion of spanking rather than her singing. The show also featured montages of contestants butchering the National Anthem and "America the Beautiful."

But perhaps the strangest contestant was Mary Roach, who left the audition site declaring that she would give up singing to pursue a career in cosmetology. Along with debating with the voices in her head in front of the cameras, she sang an undecipherable number and explained to the aghast judges that she auditioned because "all my friends told me I was an awesome singer." She was also sure to note that "Mark McGrath is hot," although it didn't help her to the next round.

Among the 42 hopefuls who made it though to the next round was Ohio's Regina Brooks, who pawned her wedding ring to fund the trip to Washington; Constantine Maroulis, who with host Ryan Seacrest's help broke the news to the fledgling New York rock band he fronts; and John Zisa, whose father is the mayor of Hackensack, N.J.

The end of the premiere episode included a dedication of the show's entire fourth season to the memory of Wil Garrity, an "Idol" production and casting assistant who died last month of compilations relating to diabetes.

The new season continues tonight with footage from auditions in St. Louis. Other celebrity judges due to appear during the coming weeks on audition episodes are Kiss' Gene Simmons (New Orleans), rapper/actor LL Cool J (Cleveland) and singers Brandy and Kenny Loggins (San Francisco).

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