AMERICAN IDOL: Featuring host Ryan Seacrest and new judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban, along with returning judge Randy Jackson, the 12th season of AMERICAN IDOL begins with the exciting two-night premiere Wednesday, Jan. 16 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday, Jan. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT). Pictured L-R: Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. CR: George Holz / FOX

The upsets have abounded since the notoriously acerbic Simon Cowell’s exit after season 10 of American Idol. TV critics’ concern took root when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler joined Randy Jackson on the judging panel. But viewers calmed down when the new judges earned their respect with their distinctly charming personalities. But can they handle another judge shuffle, especially with a blazing row between divas Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj? Debashine Thangevelo looks at what they plan to bring to the judges’ table – aside from the drama, that is…


Queen Bee of R&B/Pop

AN institution when it comes to the R&B/pop genre, this five-time Grammy winner got the nod when she was signed to be a judge in the 12th season of American Idol.

With many hits (Emotions, Daydream, One Sweet Day and Touch My Body) under her belt, if there is one thing Carey does have – aside from a wealth of experience – it is an ear for talent.

On being a part of this cash cow reality series, the 42-year-old diva explained: “It’s American Idol, this is the biggest show. It changed trends in music; it created massive superstars and people who are going to have timeless careers.”

The one thing Carey struggled with as a judge was letting go of certain contestants whom she became attached to as they had a “massive” amount of talent.

Looking back at previous seasons, Carey reflected on the best voices she had come across.

“A lot of them are very different, you go from a Carrie Underwood to a Fantasia and they are very different in their approach and their style. And they’re both amazing. But I would just say I have so much more respect for the process of this whole thing than just sitting here and seeing people go through it. I’m like, ‘wow’ for the people who have gone on this show and gone on to have a career afterwards, whether they won or didn’t.”

As someone who has enjoyed a long and flourishing career, she had this advice for hopefuls: “You have to work like you can’t even imagine. It is extremely hard to do this for a living and if you want to have a really long career you’ve got to work even harder, even when you’re sick.

“Really, it’s not about doing it because you want to become famous, infamous or whatever; it’s about loving this as a lifestyle and loving music.”

Like Whitney Houston, Carey’s music has always been a big influence among aspirant contestants.

How does she feel when listening to them take on her classics?

“There was one time in particular when a girl sang one of my songs. I thought that she was really good and she was beautiful. I was like, ‘this girl has a chance’,” she shared.

And so a passionate Carey, who, having been exposed to all genres of music thanks to her opera singer mother’s influence, has been playing an instrumental role in sussing out true raw talent. I pity the fool who challenges her. Oh wait…


New age rap diva

WHEN it comes to American female rappers, this Trinidadian-born talent gets her props for taking the lead.

At the same time, the Super Bass hitmaker, famed for her outrageous costumes and outlandish behaviour, didn’t instil confidence in Carey when she was signed as co-judge.

And the tension ended up bubbling over into a publicised feud that was addressed in talk shows by Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno.

But there is a reason why the producers brought her in – she may not have the years of knowledge Carey does, but she has a style that appeals to youngsters and will attract the viewers.

She confirmed this when she commented on agreeing to be a judge on the show.

“It knew it was going to reach the masses and like I keep saying, it was something that wasn’t expected of me and I always like to do things that people wouldn’t believe I would do.

“The producers were really sweet and I asked a lot of people I really cared about if I should do it.

“And the last person I asked was Lil’ Wayne and he said: ‘Absolutely, do it!’ That was my last thing where I found peace with it, so I did it – I signed on the dotted line.”

If contestants wanted to make an impression, Minaj laughed: “Flash me. That would make me remember a person. One boy in particular took off his shirt and was trying to be all sexy.”

So who gets her vote?

“I think it’s just something that you’ll know when you are in the same room with it. I think the time that we’re living in now, we need an entertainer. I’m looking for an all-around entertainer, someone who’s going to captivate people with or without music.

“It’s not about a record company giving you a song. It’s about, is this song really you? Am I inspired by you? Can I relate to you?”

Perhaps the differences between these two divas will prove to be an audience-boosting anchor for American Idol. Now if they could only put those claws away…

• American Idol starts next Saturday at 6pm on M-Net (DStv channel 101).