After securing its lowest ratings ever in a season during which the judges' feuds often took precedence over the actual raw talent, "American Idol" returned to its roots with a different panel, slightly altered production and -- perhaps most importantly -- a zeroed-in focus on its contestants when it returned to the air Wednesday evening (Jan. 15).
The singing competition kicked off its 13th season with audition stops in Boston, Mass., and Austin, Texas, showcasing the first of a two-night premiere introducing a revitalized, refurbished "Idol" that looks to regain prominence after years of slipping in the ratings while biggest competitior "The Voice" looms nearby. Harry Connick Jr. and former judge Jennifer Lopez joined Keith Urban, the only holdover from 2013, as the trio began its search for the next singing star in America.
While "Idol" largely stuck to its guns, it featured a handful of key alterations that could send the show back to its former standing as a TV juggernaut. Gone was the focus on the judges -- for the most part, of course, barring "Idol" rookie Connick's witty one-liners and endearing attitude. Gone, too, was the nurturing vibe the previous panels hoped to emit, stepping slightly back into Simon Cowell's no-nonsense territory, particularly with Connick's no-holds-barred approach to his critiques -- despite the fact that a vast number of contestants didn't seem to know who he was ("Iwent to a bar and I got drunk because nobody knew who I was," he told Urban, who asked what he'd done that day, after yet another contestant fawned over Lopez).