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Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj launch new talent at Adler Planetarium

AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 12: L-R: Ryan Seacrest Mariah Carey Randy JacksNicki Minaj Keith Urban answer questions from press set AMERICAN

AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 12: L-R: Ryan Seacrest, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban answer questions from the press on the set of AMERICAN IDOL Thursday, Sep. 26. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:42AM

‘American Idol” went to Adler Planetarium to find its next star.

More than 100 hopefuls turned up at the lakefront landmark Tuesday and Wednesday to perform in front of “Idol’s” freshly minted judges panel, made up of pop superstar Mariah Carey, hip-hop princess Nicki Minaj, country crooner Keith Urban and lone holdover Randy Jackson.

Chicago is the second of seven stops “Idol” is making in search of its next crop of contestants. They’ll compete on the 12th season of the show, airing on Fox in January.

“Look at this view behind us,” host Ryan Seacrest said while sitting at the judges’ table, in front of a huge window overlooking Lake Michigan and the skyline. “Always a good stop for us,” he said about Chicago. “We’ve had a lot of success here in the past.”

Success in the music industry is a hallmark of Chicago, Jackson said.

“You’ve got the great Jennifer Hudson from here, Mr. R. Kelly,” he said. “There’s a ton of talent, all the way back to Styx.” He also threw a shoutout to “a band called Chicago Transit Authority,” which later changed its name to Chicago — and forgot to send the memo to Carey.

“And Chicago,” she chimed in. “Wasn’t Chicago from Chicago?”

Contestants from Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest were invited to Adler this week after surviving two rounds of auditions in front of the show’s producers. This time, they sang for the judges. Some bounded down the planetarium’s steps beaming and clutching yellow pieces of paper — their “golden ticket” to the next round in Hollywood. Many more exited the building empty-handed and sullen.

“I was literally in tears today,” said Carey, a rookie judge who joined the panel after Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler announced their exits in July. “It’s been an emotional couple of days. The [contestants’] stories are beyond belief, and there are some amazing voices. It wasn’t the norm, I imagine.”

Carey wasn’t the only judge brought to tears. Urban said he got choked up by a man in his 20s who brought his parents with him to the tryouts. Mom and Dad had never watched their son perform before, and he did them proud.

“It was just beautiful to see his parents watching him sing,” Urban said. “I was really touched by that.”

Minaj, meanwhile, did some touching of her own. The wig-wearing singer-rapper — clearly the wild child of the lot — gave one contender an autograph. On her left breast.

“That one was a really big, nice boob,” Minaj, 29, said about the contestant, whose getup included a corset and a pair of cat ears. “She didn’t make it through, but Catty, if you’re out there, call me!”

Singer Jordin Sparks also dropped by the set Wednesday.

“She didn’t make it through, unfortunately,” joked Urban.

Sparks won “Idol’s” sixth season in 2007, back when “Idol” was posting epic ratings in the neighborhood of 30 million viewers. It’s a different story these days, when you can’t change the channel without stumbling on another talent competition.

For the first time in a long time, “Idol” can no longer claim to be television’s top-rated program or most watched regularly scheduled show; those titles now go to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

The finale of the most recent season of “Idol,” when Phillip Phillips was crowned the winner, hit a record low in viewers. “Idol’s” audience isn’t just getting smaller, it’s getting grayer, and advertisers don’t like that.

The show hopes to turn that trend around with a revamped judges’ panel stocked with fresh star power. (“Idol’s” slipping ratings got a bump when Lopez and Tyler joined the cast in 2011.)

The new blood doesn’t come cheap. Published reports put Carey’s salary just shy of $18 million. Minaj is believed to make in the neighborhood of $10-$12 million, while Urban’s deal is said to be around $4 million.

Jackson seems to think they’re worth it.

“These guys — what I love about having them here is they are actively doing it, at the top of the charts, wrecking it,” he said. “They know what a hit is. They know what a star is. They’re going to bring a lot of fire to this.”

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