AMERICAN IDOL: SEASON 12: L-R: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban./USA TODAY
by Brian Mansfield, USA TODAY
If Mariah Carey was concerned that Nicki Minaj might show her up, she was right.
Minaj -- one of three new judges on American Idol this season, along with Carey and Keith Urban -- grabs attention the moment the camera lights come on. She'll be the most polarizing part of the show's 12th season, which premiered Wednesday. The show's long-suffering, more conservative audience may hate her, even to the point of tuning out the show, but the viewers who can see past her outrageous outfits and mood-ring hair color will find a woman who has a very clear vision of what she wants to find in a contestant -- as well as a heart full of compassion for the socially awkward people the show attracts. She may take some getting used to, but Minaj has the potential to be the best judge Idol has seen since about two years before Simon Cowell jumped ship.
There were singers, too -- 41 made it from the New York auditions to the Hollywood round. But it's hard to say if any of them had the chops to make the final round. The Idol producers found some good stories, though: a one-legged tap dancer, a subway singer with the same name as a '50s star, a young woman with four adopted siblings with significant medical issues, a farm girl who wants to be a country singer but raps a mean Superbass.
If you're looking for someone to root for, pay special attention to Angela Milller (40% deaf in one ear, 20% in the other); Tenna Torres (who went to Camp Mariah as a youth) and Gurpreet Singh Sarin (trained in Indian classical music and with a matching turban for every outfit).
Throughout the New York auditions, Carey and Minaj kept their bickering mostly light-hearted, but the claws occasionally came out (and the eyes rolled even more).
"I loved being in between Mariah and Nicki," Keith Urban said at the end of Wednesday's show. He may not say that after Thursday's Chicago auditions. If the previews are any indication, he's about to get caught in even more serious crossfire.