Cowell's signature phrase, "I don't mean to be rude, but …", was inevitably followed by an unsparingly blunt appraisal of the contestant's talents, personality, or physical appearance.
The ninth season of "American Idol," the final of the series' star judge Simon Cowell, debuted last night on FOX to boffo ratings, although it was not as high as recent seasons' past.
The show opened its first half hour of its Boston auditions with Victoria Beckham serving as a guest judge for the departed Paula Abdul with 26 million viewers (a 9.8 / 26 share) and grew through the 9 PM half-hour. By 8:30 PM the show hit 30 million views (11.8 / 29), and it peaked at 9 PM with 32 million viewers (12.8 / 31). It dipped slightly again at 9:30 PM with 31 million viewers (12.6 / 30).
The 29.7 million opening night ratings average was the show's lowest since Season 3 (see season premiere ratings numbers, below).
But "Idol" wasn't the night's only ratings winner for the night. Over on CBS, "NCIS" brought in 21 million viewers at 8 PM, while "NCIS: LA" brought in almost 16 million.
For two more weeks, fans will be treated to the hilarious and popular pre-taped audition rounds, before new judge Ellen DeGeneres assumes her position as Paula's permanent replacement during Hollywood Week, which is pre-taping this week at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.
It was clear from the beginning that the focus this season would be more on the contestants, and the show prepares for its most major upheaval ever; the departure of Simon. The show presented its usual buffet of semi-talented hopefuls, atrocious train-wreck disasters, and heartwarming stories of contestants who have overcome adversity.
Successful standouts included through-and-through Italian Amadeo Diricco (Kara called him her "fellow Paisano"), Jordin Sparks-clone Ashley Rodriguez, and Mika look-a-like Tyler Grady (who performed with two broken wrists!).
Standout tragedies included Pat Ford and his cover of Britney Spears' "Womanizer" (WATCH CLIP HERE), Andrew Fenlon's war of words with Kara (although his "House of the Rising Sun" wasn't actually too tragic!), and the unforgettable Norberto Guerrero (WATCH HERE), to whom Simon said, "You sing like a 3-year-old girl, you dress like La Toya Jackson, and you've got a beard.")
The show continues for its second night tonight in Atlanta, for a one-hour show with guest host Mary J. Blige.
PREMIERE NIGHT RATINGS FOR "AMERICAN IDOL" THROUGH THE YEARS:
Season 1 6/11/02: 9.9 Million
Season 2 1/21/03: 26.5 Million
Season 3 1/19/04: 29 Million
Season 4 1/18/05: 33.5 Million
Season 5 1/17/06: 35.5 Million
Season 6 1/16/07: 37.4 Million
Season 7 1/15/08: 33.4 Million
Season 8 1/13/09: 30.4 Million
Season 9 1/12/10: 29.7 Million