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‘American Idol’ review: Revamped series makes a safe, quiet return

“Idol” remains deeply, unashamedly middle America, our critic says.

Superstar judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel

Superstar judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie journey across the nation for a new crop of talent in the premiere of its first season at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 11, 2018, on ABC. Photo Credit: ABC / Eric Liebowitz

THE SERIES “American Idol”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC/7.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Gone not quite two years, “American Idol” returns on ABC with new judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. First auditions in New York, and first singer up: Catie Turner, an enthusiastic 17-year-old from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Will Turner get a golden ticket to Hollywood? You’ll have to wait and see. “Idol” will air Sundays and Mondays until April 23, when voting begins on the top 10 contestants. After that, “Idol” airs one edition per week until May 13. The two-night finale is May 20 and 21.

MY SAY What will you see Sunday night? Close your eyes and recall what you once saw not so long ago. That should about do it. The three judges are amiable, upbeat and gentle. They’re also incapable of criticism, either constructive or harsh. They’re gatekeepers as opposed to talent scouts. Everyone (or almost everyone) gets a yellow ticket to Hollywood! Prepackaged profiles indicate what they always have indicated — that “Idol” aspirants have dreamed of this their entire lives, and after tilting against the fates or hard luck, they’ve finally got their shot at stardom.

Country music arrives at the 30-minute mark, and sticks around. Like “The Voice,” “Idol” knows where the bulk of viewers will come from, and long ago became a pitch for the hearts and minds of a different America — where lots of people still watch shows when the networks schedule them, and who don’t consume their music by the byte. “Idol” is deeply, unashamedly middle America. That should work in its favor, too.

Is the new “Idol” good? Good isn’t a term that applies here and hasn’t in years. The right question is this: Is the new “Idol” comforting? Absolutely. It’s a soft down pillow, a gentle bromide for turbulent times. Ageless, old-fashioned, congenial, reassuring, “Idol” was always about seeming verities that were never true in the first place but after enough production polish seemed just about eternal. The illusion was unyielding: Work hard, sing well, get the right breaks and superstardom awaits. It hardly ever did but that’s besides the point. The master illusionist was also a master salesman.

It’s unlikely 30 million will be watching Sunday, but maybe 10 million will be. That should be enough. ABC may or may not have made the right bet, but it’s certainly the safe one.

BOTTOM LINE Congenial, comfortable and safe, “Idol” makes a quiet return.

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