American Idol Season 12 spotlights new judges over contestants

American Idol: Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nicki Minaj made their debut as the new judges for American Idol's 12th season. Can Mariah, Nicki, and Keith revitalize American Idol this season?

Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS/
Judges Keith Urban, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj smile at a Fox panel for the television series "American Idol" at the 2013 Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in California earlier this month.

And so it begins.

A new year, a new season and three new judges. It is a lot to take in but you've come to the right place. A place that can help you to make sense of this new landscape that is American Idol - Season 12. Yes, despite what Ryan Seacrest might have said, it is in fact Season 12. American Idol's seasons are always one year behind the actual date; unlike their music, which is typically 30 - 40 years behind.

Making their debut on the judging panel this season are Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. These three fledgling judges are joined by Randy Jackson, who, despite annual rumors to the contrary, remains a fixture on American Idol. But the resident "dawg" is once again the underdog; overshadowed by fellow judges with bigger names and reportedly much bigger paychecks.

For years, Randy lived under the shadow of Simon Cowell who rose to fame in the US as the acerbic judge that everyone loved to hate. Then, when Simon finally bowed out and gave Randy a shot in the spotlight, Idol set its gaze on bigger stars like Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. This season, Idol raised the bar even higher by hiring big-named music stars whose combined salaries are reportedly setting Idol back $36 million a year, not counting Jackson's.

If Randy was hoping for air time this season, he was sadly mistaken. If the premiere was any indication of the season ahead, Idol is planning on getting its $36 million dollars worth through close ups of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj as they roll their eyes and make snide comments at one another. Once in a while, the camera will pan to Urban whose unenviable placement between the two catty divas could easily serve as inspiration for his next, sad cowboy lament.

While we're on the topic of cowboys, was anyone else surprised to hear Urban's accent (and then after a quick Google search) learn that our "country" singer is a Kiwi? (Also known as a New Zealander - but really, why would anyone choose to say New Zealander over Kiwi??) This means Idol gets to lure in the country fans without subjecting viewers to a season full of "y'alls." Bonus!

Between Urban's chiseled visage, Nicki's neon hair, lips and nails, and Mariah's narcissism, there was woefully little air time for Randy, or contestants for that matter. According to Ryan, more than 40 earned their golden tickets throughout the two days of auditions in New York. But Wednesday's episode seemed notably anemic in the actual audition portion. Even when there was a particularly good hopeful belting their heart out onto the floor in hopes of earning a ticket to Hollywood, the producers seemed more interested in zooming in on Mariah Carey as she stared longingly at the singer, her wide-eyed earnestness rivaling that of Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables.

But while American Idol has put most of its eggs into a star-studded basket this year, the judges can't earn multi-million dollar paychecks and promote their careers without at least going through the motions of judging and for that, you need contestants. So, Idol did designate a bit of airtime to the usual suspects:

  • The remarkably talented, like 28-year-old, Tenna Torres who once attended Camp Mariah (how have I gone 35+ years without knowing such a place existed?)
  • The William Hung-type contestants, such as James Bae and Albert Chang
  • Those contestants with moving life stories like that of cancer survivior and amputee, Evan Ruggiero who despite his charm and good looks, did not earn his ticket to Hollywood
  • And finally the pièces de résistance, the closing contestant with both a great voice and a moving life story, such as Ashlee Feliciano, whose family fosters and adopts "medically complex" children.

In the end, despite all the pre-show hype about feuding divas, it was a rather subdued episode of Idol; the whole "new judges trick" lost its luster back in Season 10. Arguably, the best moment of the show came when Mariah Carey, seated only two chairs over from Minaj, who was sporting hot pink lipstick and hair six shades of neon, told contestant Benjamin Gaisey that his audition was "a little over the top," without even a touch of irony. That, ladies and gentleman, is Idol at its best: cluelessly absurd.

American Idol returns on Thursday for the second of it's two-night Season 12 premiere. What did you think about the new judges? Are they going to be able to revitalize the show? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Follow me @JodiBWrites

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.