The season starts with white-on-black titles telling us it’s October 8, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan, and "Contestant #45201 is about to audition in front of the judges." We fade in on a young woman schlepping an acoustic guitar, who says to the camera, "A-game," and then steps into what looks like an airlock from IKEA. During a long moment inside the confined space, she's forced to confront herself and all her insecurities in a full-length mirror, after which a terrifying buzzer goes off, a green light scars her retinas, and the opposite door opens. From there, she and some more onscreen titles make their way to the audition room, the latter reminding us, "Life can change in a heartbeat."
The judges themselves -- Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, Jr. (whom, after last year, I fully expect to save this show single-handed, no pressure) greet her casually and learn that her name is Marielle and she's 17. She starts strumming away and singing "Grenade" by Bruno Mars in a voice that's pretty deep for a 17-year-old of either gender. The judges are immediately impressed, and Keith rips a third off of the golden ticket on their table and offers his vote to her in that form. The other judges follow suit, so she's in. Harry makes her tell the camera that she plans to be the next American Idol, which she does with a fair amount of conviction. The titles, however, remind us that there are 75,000 other hopefuls, and we'll be the ones to decide. But since about 25,000 of those are likely to be total goofballs, she may not have it as tough as we think.
There's a shorter title sequence with new graphics declaring this to be American Idol XIII, because every year this show is more convinced that it's the Olympics. It looks like we're starting in Boston. There's lots of b-roll of the city intermixed with auditioners alternately speaking hopefully or holding up handwritten cue cards Bob Dylan-style. The judges show up in their SUV limos and greet each other, then chat on a couch in a green room somewhere. Harry is of course the one newbie on the panel, and all he promises is to be honest. The other judges make some comments to the camera to start things off, and there are some uncharacteristically quick glimpses of Seacrest, but it goes by quick and then we meet the next contestant: Troy Durden from Boston, who claims to be a 100 on a scale of 1 to 10. He's a 3 at managing expectations.
Then he shows up in front of the judges and declares that he loves to twerk, which he forthwith commences to do. Having broken the ice, he launches into a crooning version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," of all things. He's got a nice voice, and his own arrangement, with some of those runs that have been working so well for people on this show for the last, oh, ten years or so. Jennifer kind of loved it, and the guys dare him to do it again while twerking. He's a better singer than a twerker, it turns out. They all vote yes, and Jennifer warns him to take himself seriously. This as he exits with his golden ticket (which are actually gold-colored now, and look like tickets, rather than a yellow sheet of cheap-ass Xerox paper) and they make lots of "twerk" puns. And then Troy does the happy dance when he reunites with his family outside, and we're off to the races.