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So, Is American Idol Over—or Not?

Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, America Idol Press Conference Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup for FOX

American Idol minus Simon Cowell, instruments and others, plus Jennifer Lopez Steven Tyler and 15-year-olds equals…

Well, what does it equal? And did it all add up for last night's season premiere?

RECAP: Our take on the Idol opener

It added up enough.

Ratings-wise, Idol was Idol, dominating the competition (Paula Abduls Live to Dance, included), putting up showy numbers (an estimated 26.2 millIon viewers) and planting the demographically desirable in front of the tube like a big, giant Jersey Shore.

Judged against its own history, Idol fell short.

The new-look show, sans Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi, as well as Cowell, was down 3.7 million viewers from last year's premiere. But before you chalk up the losses to the judges table, remember: (a) down is the natural direction for almost every show; and, (b) the Cowell-era Idol lost even more viewers (4 million) from its sixth-season premiere to its seventh—so, go ahead and explain that one.

Overall, the 10th season opener will go down as the franchise's "least"-watched since its first, summer-launched season.

Interestingly, the new judges seemed less of a draw than the competition itself: the show's first-half hour, in which Lopez and Tyler were introduced, drew its smallest numbers of the night.

Critical reaction, too, centered less on what was new, and more on what was missing: namely, the Cowell bite.

Paste magazine found "the formula simply does not work without someone willing to be an ass to kids with big dreams but no chops." The Chicago Tribune called Tyler "winning," liked Lopez OK enough, but ordered Randy Jackson, the only original judge left sitting, to "man up, dawg, and just say no, once in a while."

Salon.com, for one, appreciated the "new age of niceness." Besides, it found, "as long as Tyler's around, there's still plenty of entertaining crazy to go around."

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