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'American Idol' season 13 premiere: Big changes go well beyond the judging panel

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The season 13 premiere of American Idol struck a high note Wednesday night, with returning judges Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban being joined by newcomer Harry Connick Jr.. According to People on Jan. 16, the trio handed out 46 tickets to Hollywood when all was said and done, after auditioning contestants in Boston and Austin.

But the big news about what's new this year goes well beyond who's staffing the judges panel. "American Idol" didn't waste precious airtime focusing on the bad and the ridiculous as in the past.

And for the first time, contestants were allowed to audition with guitars in tow. "The unlucky judge juju is gone, guitar-playing singers will rule Hollywood, and America is likely to be wild about Harry Connick Jr.", wrote Wade Rouse on People.com.

Gone this year were performers like a William Hung retching out a torturous rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs". Producers focused on the talented, and not the desperate and camera-hungry looking for their 15 minutes.

Last night's season 13 premiere has most critics praising the chemistry of the three new judges, many noting that Lopez, Urban and Connick are bringing a fresh new vibe to the show.

As for new judge Connick, he said at the outset of the show that he didn't know what kind of judge he'll be but that he has to be honest. That earned him the new nickname "Harsh Harry" by the end of day 1, according to USA Today.

That likely grew out of comments like, "You're growing up in a time where they have pitch-correction software, and you could really use it". Harry also schooled Lopez on pentatonics, the five-note scale often exploited by R&B, gospel and jazz singers.

But all the toughness aside, think Simon Cowell, Connick is also charming, engaging, and even hysterically funny.

Of the golden tickets to Hollywood handed out, many went to singers who were for the first time allowed to audition with their guitars. It's about time Idol catches up with the other talent competitions who already allow instrument playing.

One of those included standout baby-faced 17-year-old Sam Woolf, who strummed through his performance of an up-tempo version of Ed Sheeran's "Lego House".

Not to be intimidated, Malcolm Allen played air guitar alongside his stellar vocals on "Superstition", which earned a "triple yes" from J Lo.
"I'm literally in love with music", the 19-year-old gushed. "If I could marry it, I would".

And Marialle Sellars, 17, gave a stunning acoustic version of Bruno Mars' "Grenade". Idol kicked off the season with her performance, possibly setting her up as the one to beat.

American Idol continues Thursday night on FOX at 8 p.m. ET, with more auditions from Austin before continuing on to San Francisco.

What did you think of this season's first show? And who do you think was the standout Wednesday night?

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