“What has Fox done to our American Idol?” said Lisa de Moraes in The Washington Post. They “warned” us that this season would focus more on contestant’s aspirations and be “less cutthroat,” but “kicking off in Phoenix with Louie Armstrong singing ‘What a Wonderful World’ over shots of judge Simon Cowell actually smiling, the traditional Weeping Winners reel—and a rainbow?” Geez.

Don’t worry, said Mark Perigard in the Boston Herald, this is the “same cruel Idol”—most of the “wannabes” on last night’s premiere “got their few seconds of fame as the punchlines to a joke.” Then there was the “obsessive fan wearing a pink cowboy hat,” whose “steely stare alone could have been grounds for a restraining order.” It was a “cringe-worthy” reminder of the season five contestant who killed herself outside of Paula Abdul’s home in November.

“The freaks were still present and their self-delusion and nutty expectations of stardom were still fully displayed,” said Richard Rushfield in the Los Angeles Times. But American Idol does seem a bit toned down compared to seasons past: So far, “instead of forcing the humiliation into the vanquished’s faces, we come close to actual empathy.”