On ‘Idol,’ a picky Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey as boring as Britney
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 15, 2013 6:50PM
AMERICAN IDOL: Pictured L-R: Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson at the New York auditions of AMERICAN IDOL airing on the two-night premiere Wednesday, Jan. 16 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday, Jan. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT). CR: Michael Becker / FOX.
Two-night season premiere from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday (New York auditions) and Thursday (Chicago auditions) on WFLD-Channel 32
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:14AM
PASADENA, Calif. — As “American Idol” kicks off its 12th season Wednesday with a two-night premiere, the judges’ panel is new but not necessarily improved, bigger but not necessarily better.
Select fans and critics saw a sneak peek last week of “Idol’s” freshly minted judges at work when Fox screened a 45-minute show featuring scenes from auditions in New York and Chicago.
While 45 minutes is hardly long enough to draw definitive conclusions about the singing competition’s new judges, it’s enough to formulate some initial impressions, like this one: Mariah Carey is shaping up to be the “Idol” equivalent of “The X Factor’s” Britney boondoggle. Not a lot of bang for millions of bucks.
Hip-hop princess Nicki Minaj and her many wigs got the lion’s share of camera time, and they probably will all season. Of the four judges, Minaj supplied the bulk of the fireworks and was the most entertaining — if not educational — to watch. During tryouts at Adler Planetarium she acted like a cat in heat, unabashedly crushing on a long line of contestants. She proved every bit as eccentric and unpredictable as former judge Steven Tyler, minus the decades of experience in the music business.
Carey, “Idol’s” priciest newcomer and the best-selling female recording artist of all time, is heir apparent to the J. Lo diva throne. But unlike Jennifer Lopez, who exited the show with Tyler last July, Carey didn’t seem willing or able to dole out constructive criticism. Or any criticism. What little she did say usually fell into the banal category.
“It was really tough for me to say no in the beginning; I used to duck my head, like, ‘No, thank you,’ ” Carey said during a TV critics press tour last week. “I had a very tough time with it because as a kid you get turned down a lot, and I was very young when I first started in this business. It’s tough to get that rejection.”
Minaj, on the other hand, has no problem saying no. She did so with one universally liked contestant at the Chicago auditions, possibly because the woman had the misfortune of wearing the same color eyeshadow as Minaj.
“We have a rivalry,” Minaj told her, prompting a “Girl, are you crazy?” look from veteran judge Randy Jackson.
“When I watch these shows and someone says yes to a person who clearly doesn’t deserve it, it bothers me,” Minaj told critics, adding that she draws inspiration from Judge Judy because “she doesn’t blow smoke up anyone’s a--.”
“I don’t feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story or because there’s something going on that may make people cry.”
Four-time Grammy winner Keith Urban brings a country sensibility to the panel for the first time. Mr. Nicole Kidman may be new to “Idol,” but this isn’t his first rodeo. Urban judged Australia’s version of “The Voice” last year, and he competed on three different TV singing competitions in his youth.
“I also know what it’s like to be really, really crucified by somebody because I got crucified at 9 years of age by one of the judges,” said Urban, whose critiquing was restrained and measured, almost to a fault.
In one scene, Urban quipped that he felt like a scratching post sitting between Minaj and Carey, who supposedly make Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell look like besties. If last week’s sneak peek is any indication of what’s to come, the well-publicized feud is much ado about nothing.
“This is always blown out of proportion on shows like this,” lone holdover judge Randy Jackson said last week at a Fox party. “Whenever you have powerful personalities that are all different in any kind of thing, including family at a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, it’s sometimes what happens. Keith and I have had some words. It’s just what happens.”
Jackson said the Chicago auditions proved especially fruitful for the upcoming season, which has a higher than usual 276 hopefuls headed to the Hollywood rounds starting Feb. 6. Some 47 of these would-be stars hail from auditions held last fall at Adler. The city was the second of seven stops on “Idol’s” nationwide recruitment tour.
“Chicago talent was amazing,” Jackson said. “We’ve been to Chicago many times and I think this was one of our best.”
He predicted that this might be the season that puts an end to “Idol’s” WGWG (White Guys With Guitars) winning streak, a lengthy run that continued last year when pawnshop worker Phillip Phillips was crowned champ.
“It’s the girls’ season to lose,” Jackson said. “There’s so much diverse girls’ talent, I’m blown away.”
Shaking up the predictable pattern of winners — as well as the judges’ table — could provide a much-needed boost to “Idol’s” slipping ratings. Viewership got a bump when Lopez and Tyler joined the cast in 2011.
Last season’s “Idol” finale was the least-watched in the show’s history. And while “Idol” is still the most popular non-sports series on television, last year’s average of 17.2 million viewers is roughly half of what it had in its heyday, 2006.
“There are too many of these shows on the air and they’re all taking each other down a little bit,” said Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment for Fox.
“This is still the king of these shows,” he added. “We were down 25 percent last year and we made a star. Phillip Phillips is an ironclad success. This is the one and the only one that makes stars, period. And I think that people will keep coming back to it for that reason.”