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Originally published January 19, 2011 at 11:32 PM | Page modified January 20, 2011 at 8:05 AM

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Just say no, J. Lo: 'American Idol' judges waffle in season opener

If Wednesday night's premiere episode was any indication, Season 10 of "American Idol" is going to take some time to find its stride without Simon Cowell in the lineup.

Seattle Times A&E editor

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If Wednesday night's premiere episode was any indication, Season 10 of "American Idol" is going to take some time to find its stride without the caustic, decisive British judge in the lineup.

Faced with a parade of mediocre talent in the New Jersey auditions, the three 2011 judges — Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez — looked unsure about when and how to dismiss unqualified contestants. Lopez had a particularly hard time saying "no."

"This is awful... I hate this ... Why did I sign up for this? I wanna go home," Lopez said, after dashing the dreams of a truly awful Madonna wannabe, Achille Love.

One auditioner, Ashley Sullivan, a Broadway-style belter whose voice seemed nice enough but all wrong for "Idol," got a golden ticket to Hollywood by crying and begging until the soft-hearted Lopez broke down and relented. Tyler and Jackson went along, after a few ineffectual murmers of protest.

Maybe what this show needs is a fourth judge. One who understands the entertainment value of the blunt truth. One who won't stand idly by ("Idolly" by?) when Jackson, Tyler and Lopez call a turkey a canary.

If the fourth judge had been at the table Wednesday night, here are a few moments that might've gone differently.

Rachel Zevita, an also-ran from Season 6, was back with a baroque rendition of "Hallelujah." Lopez said, "I'm going to be honest. This wasn't the best audition you could give." Tyler and Jackson nodded their assent ... and then handed her a pass to Hollywood. A straight-shooter would've told her to drop the mannerisms and get back on the bus she rode in on.

Caleb Hawley, a scruffy guy with a kind of shambling charm, sang "Hallelujah, I love her so." Steven Tyler proclaimed it "something new, something different." Really? Sounded an awful lot like an uninspired imitation of Ray Charles to us.

Chris Cordero, a Boy Scout, mangled a fair bit of "My Way" before the judges signaled him to stop. He pleaded to be allowed to sing the chorus and the judges said "Yes." But the answer should've been "No! No! No!" It was clear from the first measure that Cordero deserved a merit badge for cluelessness.

There was plenty of true talent on display in the two-hour premiere as well, but even then, the judges seemed occasionally reluctant to make a decision, deferring to each other awkwardly.

Tyler fired off a few zingers. He asked one hapless contestant, "Did you eat paint chips as a child?" And he lodged a legitimate critique of the soulful Devyn Rush, a singing waitress, but not until she left the audition room: "Someone's got to take her clothes shopping," he said.

Thursday night: Auditions in New Orleans. Can we get the fourth judge seated before then?

Lynn Jacobson: ljacobson@seattletimes.com

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