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Preview of 'American Idol' final season debut episode January 6

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Monday, December 28, 2015

Before Christmas, Fox provided reviewers an advance look at the two-hour season 15 debut of "American Idol" that airs on Wednesday, January 6 from 8 to 10 p.m..  We are now just nine days out.

"Idol" has already released the first five minutes:

Here are a few teasers:

The show is trying to balance nostalgia with a continued focus on seeking a new winner.

Season 15 opens with gauzy scenes of folks supposedly watching some of the winners being named over the years with kids who are ultimately inspired to try out themselves. (Some seasons skipped? Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen, Candace Glover, et al)

Then there's a flashback to June 11, 2002: Brian Dunkelman and Ryan Seacrest introduce the show in what was then called the Kodak Theatre, where the winner was going to be crowed a few weeks later. That theatre, now called Dolby, will also be the site of the series finale come April.

The judges then jibber jabber on how important it is to find a new superstar and tout how great the talent is this year. (Of course, right?)

Two audition cities are represented: Atlanta and Denver.

My coverage of the Athens bus tour audition in June.

My photos and interviews with the judges in September at the Atlanta auditions.

Technically, the early rounds were not in Atlanta but Savannah, for scheduling reasons. That's nowhere near Atlanta. But "Idol" has always fuzzed out the fact the early rounds and the judges' rounds are set up at different times, usually in different locales (but seldom different cities!)

The judges did come to the W Hotel in Midtown for the later round in September, the same place they have used for three previous seasons. The show also works around the fact Ryan Seacrest was not in Atlanta at all - scheduling issues. That's readily apparent to anyone familiar with the show.  Oddly, for one contestant, Seacrest is shown interviewing the person as as if she was about to enter the judge's auditions when in fact it had to have been shot in  Hollywood at a later date and inserted in after the fact. Again, these are minor editing transgressions.

Good news: Seacrest is in Denver and shows up a few times talking to contestants before and after.

I can assure any diehard that this is a fun two hours. To goose our memories of the past, former contestants help out in the early rounds, including Kris Allen, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks (who shows up in Denver for both the early and judges' rounds) and even Lee DeWyze.

One contestant recites (more or less) all the winners over the first 14 years, probably prompted to again provide context. Scott McIntyre's elimination season 8 is a topic of conversation. The judges - all GenXers like me - sing the "Laverne & Shirley" theme since one of the contestant's name seems to combine both names. And Seacrest briefly interviews label honcho and mentor Scott Borchetta with last year's winner Fradiani to remind folks that Fradiani is still "in play" as a potential star since his album isn't even out yet.

Atlanta brought in far more talent than Denver. No surprise. The South has always dominated the proceedings and they dominate the two hours. Producers even flew out a few Southerners to Denver to fill out the slate there.

Denver auditions featured just one person from the entire state of Colorado. The  producers also showed an overwrought teen from Arizona and a cop from New Mexico. That was it for west of the Mississippi. Most of the contestants hailed from the Southeast with Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama represented. There was also some woman identified as from Kosovo but clearly lives somewhere in the U.S.

And in a twist, one of the best singers of the episode comes from Massachusetts, a woman that Harry Connick Jr. boldly says could win it all. Based on her first audition, she is impressive. Keep an eye out for her. Over the years, New England has shown a pitiful lack of talent over 15 seasons so it would be quite bizarro if she does end up taking the final "Idol" crown.

The final "contestant" of the two hours isn't a contestant at all but a pure gimmick, one "Idol" has heavily promoted so I'm not really giving anything notable away: Kanye West. His wife is Kim Kardashian, who happens to work for Seacrest. I wonder how that one worked out?

West isn't even in Denver or Atlanta. He showed up in San Francisco. I guess "Idol" figured the first episode typically gets the biggest ratings of the year so why not place the bit in then?

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.