Analyzing American Idol's new judges: Nicki Minaj soars, Mariah Carey has "Britney Spears Disease"
Much as producers insist they are keeping American Idol’s focus on its young competitors, fans of TV’s most-watched singing contest mostly have one question as the show’s 12th season starts Wednesday:
What’s up with the new judges?
A look at 45 minutes of footage from this week’s episodes circulated to critics shows rapper/singer Nicki Minaj as the early star, alternating between savvy remarks and smirky needling of her fellow judges. Pop diva Mariah Carey, who likely expected to be the queen bee in this group, seems oddly detached and off-balance; unsure how to deal with this crazy, charismatic upstart determined to make the most of her time in the Idol spotlight.
“I’ve made a lot of difficult choices in my career, and I was like, I’m never going to get the opportunity to be a part of something this big and something that reaches Middle America,” Minaj told journalists during a press conference last week. “I just felt like I really didn’t have anything to lose.
The last Idol winner may have sold 3-million copies of his first single, but NBC’s The Voice proved an exciting singing contest focused on buzzed-about judges can still boost an entire network from worst to first in ratings.
So it makes sense to look at how each judge comes across, presaging what to expect when the show debuts at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on WTVT-Ch. 13.
Nicki Minaj – This rapper/singer is a clear star of the early footage, mostly because she is fearless about challenging her fellow judges and auditioners. She encourages awful male contestants to perform more (then hits on them), she urges cute male contestants to take off their shirts (then hits on them), she makes faces when fans compliment Carey and starts fights over anything and everything. But, as the close viewer will observe, Minaj is also astute about what sells to music fans and sharp-eyed about supporting contestants who reflect those values. And if this is what she seems like in the show’s pre-taped, heavily-edited audition rounds, just imagine what will happen on live television.
Mariah Carey – The pop diva, world famous for more than two decades, seems to suffer from Britney Spears Disease. Spears, a notoriously erratic personality who joined the judges panel on Fox’s The X Factor to great fanfare, was so careful to look sane she forgot to be entertaining and is now leaving the show. Carey seems headed down the same road, weighing each word so carefully, she’s outdone by Minaj’s fearless theatrics.
Keith Urban – A charismatic, upbeat New Zealand-born country star, Urban often serves as a buffer between Carey and Minaj, pleading for calm as all heck is breaking loose. His biggest problem is being too hesitant to tell lackluster contestants they’re not cutting it.
Randy Jackson – Much as some joke that he’ll show up for an envelope opening, it is tough to imagine Idol without at least one judge who knows the ropes. Jackson keeps auditions on track, gets auditioners to bring in their families for great camera shots and urges fellow judges to be direct with bad singers. If there’s a new Simon Cowell in the house, he’s it.