Michael Slezak and Kate Ward
January 25, 2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

”American Idol” judging style debate

Love It

The emotional caning that pervaded Idol last season — culminating with Simon’s widely criticized ”bush baby” cracks — is gone, and with it went the queasiness that was a side effect of regular viewership. The judges’ tender group hug with weepy, heartbroken 16-year-old Temptress Browne alleviated viewer guilt for chuckling when she garbled the title of the Dreamgirls showstopper into ”I’m Not Goin’ Nowhere.” And Simon’s comparison of Alexis Cohen to Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin was guffaw-worthy precisely because the glitter-faced wacko had already made her exit. —Michael Slezak

Loathe It

I don’t mean to be rude, but Idol‘s new nice streak is threatening to make this season as dull as Camile Velasco’s season 3 rendition of ”Desperado.” Case in point, Simon’s response to Paul Stafford’s disastrous performance of ”Wait for You”: ”You’re a very nice guy, Paul.” Ugh. Yes, Simon’s insults last year were egregiously merciless, but let’s face facts: We tune in to these early rounds purely for the judges’ gut-busting cruelty toward delusional hopefuls. Why else would Fox schedule over three weeks of audition rounds? The last thing anybody wants to see is a three-Paula panel. —Kate Ward

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