‘American Idol’ Judge Kara DioGuardi Hits Her Stride In Season Premiere

The fourth judge bonds with Paula and Randy, and even gets along with Simon.

Imagine being the newbie when the rest of the class has spent eight years getting thisclose and developing a finish-each-other’s-eye-rolls chemistry. Tuesday night was the first chance for America to see how producer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi handled being on the hot seat as the first permanent fourth judge on the once iconic [url id="/news/topics/a/american_idol/"]“American Idol”[/url] Panel of Three.

(Read “American Idol” expert Jim Cantiello’s live blog of the premiere here.)

Before turning to the tryouts in Phoenix, Arizona, Tuesday night’s season premiere opened with a primer on DioGuardi’s background writing songs for [artist id="1232128"]Jewel[/artist], [artist id="1060"]Celine Dion[/artist] and [artist id="1231768"]Kelly Clarkson[/artist]. And right away, we saw clips of DioGuardi fighting to be heard (“Can I say something!?”) and getting a fake open-mouth kiss from former odd-girl-out Paula Abdul.

When first contestant Tuan Nguyen did his worst [artist id="1102"]Michael Jackson[/artist], DioGuardi’s barely contained giggles, tongue rolling and quip — “I’ve never seen anything like that, and in a not-so-good way” — proved off the bat that she gets it. And by the second contestant, DioGuardi was already taking control (and Simon’s job) by polling the panel for their votes. She even managed to drink from her product-placement Coke cup on cue.

One audition round in, DioGuardi appeared to have already developed a chummy, shoulder-slapping relationship with Randy Jackson, a girl-power bond with Paula and no major conflicts with Simon Cowell.

She was officially welcomed to the “Idol” franchise by a wacky contestant who professed to be her “#1 fan!” and deftly employed Jackson’s favorite path-to-Hollywood phrase, “150 percent yes.” While she didn’t exactly shake things up, DioGuardi managed to slip right in seamlessly without visibly struggling to find the difficult balance between being supportive and cutting, like some previous temporary guest judges.

Her shining moment was having Katrina “Bikini Girl” Darrell do a once-around for the sake of the male judges … and then challenging them when they put Darrell through to the next round. But not before she practically threw down with the bathing beauty and challenged her to a sing-off, becoming the first judge to call a contestant a “bi—.”

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