Last night I watched American Idol for the first time in almost 5 years. After season 3 I just sort of quit the reality juggernaut. So going back to it was a bit of a strange experience. I, of course, knew of all the changes, but I didn’t expect it to seem like a completely different show.

First of all, there’s the new fourth judge. I understand the basic reasoning behind adding her but all she seems to do is create unnecessary tension on the panel (last night she scolded the audience and then Simon scolded her!). She does add a legitimately knowledgeable female voice but she also makes it necessary for them all to squawk over each other to get their opinion out in the allotted time.

And the instruments. That’s actually pretty cool. After all, a good chunk of successful singers these days play an instrument, why shouldn’t the idols? But doesn’t it sort of seem like it takes the pressure off the actual vocals a little bit?

Which brings me to- the singers. There were very few of them that didn’t make me want to hurl things at the screen. Adam Lambert is obviously a huge talent (though I would expect nothing less from a member of the cast of Wicked. If you can sing theatre you can sing anything) and Kris Allen was pretty good this week too. Though their vocals were passable, Lil Rounds, Danny Gokey, and Annop Desai seemed like wedding singers, desperately trying to copy the original (why not just hire a DJ instead?), Matt Giraud, Allison Iraheta and Scott MacIntyre were simply substandard and Megan Joy inspired dislike the second she opened her mouth.

When I last watched the show, no one was pretending to be Usher, the whole thing didn’t reek of karaoke the way it does now. Remember Jennifer Hudson’s “Circle of Life”, Diana DeGarmo’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud” or Latoya London’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade”? Kelly Clarkson’s “RESPECT” and Clay Aiken’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters- that was American Idol, this is a Friday night at a bar in Chinatown.