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Australian Idol is back... but can you feel it?

The Australian Idol drinking game
While watching Australian Idol auditions, take a drink whenever one of the following things happens:

We're told Idol is "more than a music competition/reality TV show"
A judge makes out like Idol is a legitimate platform to get ahead in the music business, without a trace of irony
Ricky-Lee says this exact phrase: "a shoulder to cry on"
Two or more friends audition together in stupid costumes
Inappropriate power notes - the longer and more ridiculous the power note, the bigger the drink
Inappropriate gay jokes
Inappropriate tears
A crappy, overly ambitious singer is insulted by the judges
The judges team up to mock a crappy singer
A crappy singer begs to be let through to the top 100
A crappy singer continues singing after they're turned down, as if the judges will miraculously change their minds upon hearing their nasal trilling a second time
A crappy singer goes on a defensive, attitude-heavy rampage after being rejected
The judges accept someone who is obviously crap
A girl with dyed hair, too much make-up and a husky voice describes herself as a "rock chick"

After playing this game you will either a) be incredibly drunk, or b) have come to the horrifying realisation that the crazy loser bogans who audition for Australian Idol actually exist, which will require you to become incredibly drunk in order to cope.

Idol has opened with the promise of "groundbreaking changes". Based on the first round of auditions the show is the same as it's ever been - with the exception of new and improved opening credits - but admittedly it's only early days. There are, however, some small but important differences:

The judging panel
I don't miss Mark Holden one little bit - in fact I barely noticed he wasn't there. After featuring a bloated four judges in 2007, the panel is back to a slim and trim three: Kyle Sandilands and Ian "Dicko" Dickson offer more than enough off-the-cuff quips and macho posturing, while Marcia Hines is her usual boring maternal self...

... except for the part where she's exactly the opposite of that. Did she get a personality implant since last year? She completely PWN3D some of the kids who auditioned, laying an especially deserving smackdown on an attitude-heavy 16-year-old brat. If Marcia continues to bring the snark, she's in real danger of becoming my favourite judge. And that's something I never expected to say.

The hosts
James Mathison and Andrew G are always so energetic at the beginning of the season - let's see how many weeks it takes before they start looking like bored sleepwalkers! Of course the big addition is former Idol Ricky-Lee Coulter, who's signed on as a "mentor" to the wannabes. I like Ricky and all, but... let's be honest here. Her "advice" is the sort of generic fluff that I could offer merely as someone who has watched the show for five seasons. "Know the lyrics! Choose an appropriate song!" Thanks for those gems, Ricky. How do you think she measured up?

Australian Idol has a long way to go if it wants to live up to the claim that 2008 is the most talented year ever, but the season is off to a good start: there's a pleasing mix of talented singers, not-so-talented singers who the judges put through anyway, and truly hopeless losers. (Highlights: the orange-skinned bodybuilder who literally wept; and the TV return of 2005 Big Brother contestant Vesna, who accompanied her rocker boyfriend to the auditions.)

However, as shamefully pleasurable as Idol is, there is no way that I am equipped with the endurance to watch six nights of auditions in a row.