Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban Joining Mariah & Randy on Idol: What Do We Want From Them?

Keith Urban Nicki Minaj American IdolThe worst-kept secret in television is finally out of the see-through bag. Country superstar Keith Urban and rapper/singer/devotee of unsettling wigs Nicki Minaj will join pop diva Mariah Carey and Randy “Him Again?” Jackson on the American Idol Season 12 judges’ panel, a Fox spokesperson confirmed today.

“Nicki’s an unbelievably captivating international phenomenon who has made an indelible mark on rap and pop. And Keith is another great addition to Idol – he’s one of the biggest stars in country music and I know that our fans and contestants will fall in love with him,” said Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment for Fox, in a release. “With an unparalleled star like Mariah, fan-favorite Randy, chart-toppers like Nicki and Keith and our incomparable host Ryan [Seacrest], we’ve put together one of the most exciting judging panels around.”

It’s never easy to predict how well (or how disastrously) any first-time reality show judge will fare — especially under the intense pressure of a live telecast (and a rowdy studio audience). Who’d have thunk Ellen DeGeneres, a veteran host of the Academy Awards and the Emmys, would shut down like an iPhone in a swimming pool when asked to dole out succinct, honest critiques to the likes of Andrew Garcia and Tim Urban?

With that cautionary tale in mind, I thought I’d dole out a little bit of friendly advice to Urban and Minaj as they embark on their “Idol journeys,” boiling it down to four bullet points apiece that they can print out and bring with them to the first round of Season 12 callbacks in New York City on Sunday afternoon. (For the record, I’m vehemently opposed to a four-person panel — there’s already too much yapping and not enough singing with three — but why gripe about what cannot be changed, no?) Without further ado…

Keith Urban
* Honesty is the best policy | Pundits and prognosticators often argue that established recording artists don’t want to be viewed as “mean” or “discouraging” to wannabe singers, but I’d say it’s far more damaging to a judge’s public persona to be viewed as a serial enabler, or even worse, as patently dishonest. Let’s face it: Very few people are born with enough talent to make a living as professional vocalists. So is there really a greater act of kindness from a judge than (sensitively) cutting short a mediocre singer’s deluded hopes of being the next Sinatra or Knowles?

* A little homespun humor helps the medicine go down | As Blake Shelton has proven on The Voice, it’s possible to give negative feedback without making a contestant feel like you just performed open-heart surgery without anesthesia. If you can make a contestant chuckle, or better yet bring him in on the joke with you, then everybody wins.

* Somebody needs to steer the contestants toward offbeat song choices and interesting arrangements — and that someone is probably going to have to be you | The last couple of seasons, Idol judges seemed to place less importance on contestants turning well-known songs upside down, a la David Cook’s “Always Be My Baby” or Adam Lambert’s “Ring of Fire,” producing fewer water-cooler moments for the show. For the love of Randy Jackson’s “Yo!” pins, never forget that fresh renditions of familiar hits will always and forever generate more buzz and higher ratings than the umpteenth karaoke rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.”

* Know your Idol history | We all know Idol judges have access to dress rehearsals, so be sure to use one of your assistants (or Google) every week to give you the low-down on whether any of the songs being covered have resulted in prior Idol Moments (i.e. “Summertime” or “Alone”) or full-scale nuclear meltdowns (“Against All Odds,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”). Sure, not everybody cares about season-to-season comparisons, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing an occasional bone to the Idoloonie nation.

* [BONUS TIP] If your budget for highlights is greater than Nicki or Mariah’s, keep it to yourself | This rule is kind of self-explanatory, no?

Nicki Minaj
* Check your filter at the door | It’s been a long time since Idol audiences felt like the show’s judges weren’t offering up critiques coated in 50 shades of sugar. If you’re brave enough to bring brazen honesty back to the live telecasts, it’ll go down like a glass of cold water to the parched Idol audience, and possibly make you the most popular judge on television.

* Recognize that your job is, at least to the Idol faithful, serious business | Yes, we know your chair at the Idol judges’ table is the one labeled “crazy she-beast,” but you won’t succeed in your new job just by being outrageous just for outrageousness’ sake. Start by paying strict attention to the performances going on in front of you, then share your visceral, unfiltered opinions about what you’ve just heard. You can get away with just about anything, as long as we know you care as much as we do about discovering and shaping the next generation of music stars.

* When in doubt about what to say to contestants, remember that less is almost always more | Watch some tapes of Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson giving feedback in Season 11. Note the irritating way it often took them two or three minutes to get to the point of their critiques (or something sort of resembling a point). Then make a vow that you’ll never fall into the trap of thinking the Idol audience will somehow view every one of your words as a glistening pearl. To put it another way, treat your critiques like Usain Bolt in the 4×100 relay: Be quick and exciting, then pass that damn baton to the person next to you.

* Your gut instinct should always trump the whims of Idol producers | Nigel Lythgoe & Co. always claim they don’t have an agenda about which contestants they’d like to make it to the finale, but that seems about as likely as Obama and Romney secretly playing Words With Friends on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, the last two seasons of Idol found the judges adhering to said agenda so carefully, that there was almost never any disagreement among the panel about the quality of performances — a trend that was boring at best, and incredibly frustrating at worst. So please, don’t be afraid to follow the script in your heart rather than the one typed for you on Uncle Nigel’s stationery. You might only last one season, but what a fun season it’ll be!

What do you think of Minaj and Urban joining Idol? Any additional tips you’d like to give them before they step into their new roles? Sound off in the comments! And for all my reality TV news, interviews, opinions, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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199 Comments
  1. Dan says:

    When American Idol started, it was the search for the next superstar… it wasn’t necessarily about having “the voice.” True, Kelly Clarkson happened to excel in that department, but that was 10 years ago, and the pop landscape was much different than it is now.

    These days, pop music isn’t about having a stellar set of pipes, and I think that’s somewhere Nicki Minaj will help the show. Nobody said that every panelist has to have a gorgeous voice, but as long as a few can spot someone who can actually sing, then a third or forth judge is okay to be an “X factor” judge, because these days, your entertainment factor seems to build a much better long-term career than your voice would.

    I’m a fan of all three entertainers on the panel, and think that Carey, Urban and Minaj will all bring something different to the table, and I hope that by including somebody like Minaj, that the contestants will up their game and try to be a little more entertaining that they’ve been the last few seasons.

    • teatime says:

      Good point! It drives me nuts when I love a performance and then the judges tell them it was pitchy in parts or something like that. It is a competition for a singer, but it is not just about the vocals. It is more important that they are entertaining and creative. I don’t know if Nicki is the right person, but that could be the logic behind pick a current successful entertainer who is not know for her vocals.

    • Greg says:

      What Minaj brings to the table is a desire to grab the remote and watch something else.

  2. Karen Montanaro says:

    I have been waiting patiently to see if Keith Urban was going to join the line up of judges for AI! He was fantastic on The Voice Australia, he is a kind and caring man. I think he will give good comments to the contestants for Season 12. Can’t wait to be seeing Keith twice a week, every week!!!!!

  3. karenc says:

    Michael,

    I agree what is needed is real watercooler moments, like when David Cook did Billie Jean and Always Be My Baby, plus just about everything else, and Adam Lambert did ROF and Whole Lotta Love. The show should be about the contestants and allowing the contestants to show who they are as artists, not for the sake of the judges, which I’m afraid that’s what the show is becoming. The judges are overshadowing the contestants at this point.

  4. Maria says:

    I’ve seen Keith Urban perform live twice, and he is fantastic. A guitar virtuoso, great voice, down-to-earth, tons of energy on stage and mellow in interviews…the guy has it all, and he’s nice-looking on top of it. I’m not much into AI, but I will check it out just for him.

  5. Mary says:

    I am thrill that KU is on the panel. Mariah was a good mentor, hope it carries to being a judge. I can tolerate Randy but he needs new catch phrases. Too be honest I will be muting Nickki. I just cannot stand her, her antics, music not my cup of tea. Yes for some forsaken reason she sells but she is a manufactured pop artist. I think it is unfair for her to judge a singing competition when she can’t sing. She should be on the Xfactor they are not looking for singers, but the it factor. Michael I do not think we will see many moments like David Cook, Kris Allen or Adam changing up a song. I blame that on Jimmy
    Lovine, do not see him allowing the kids to take risk, and the mentors he has are not that great except for a few. I hope the new juges have chemistry and give honest critiques. most of all I hope they select talented kids.

  6. millie says:

    Four judge panel is too much – I want to hear singers, not 10 minutes from the judges after each song. And I don’t think Idol is going to achieve what they’re looking for with the addition of Nicki Minaj. I can’t see her fans tuning into Idol each week just to see her sit on a panel. And like others have said, she annoys me and has no talent, so as a longtime fan, I won’t be back. I think it’s a lose-lose all the way around. I would have liked Adam, but again, there are other American Idol alumni who would have done just as well. What these shows are crying out for is credibility. While it’s possible Mariah Carey and Keith Urban can bring some if they’re honest in their critiques, as they are talented and have had long careers, Nicki Minaj no. And although Randy Jackson works in the music industry, I cannot listen to “yo dawg – for you for me,” one more time. There’s a great comedy block on Weds. on ABC. I’ll give that a try.

  7. Carla888 says:

    Keith Urban was great on The Voice Australia. Brilliant theft from that show to get him on idol. He might possibly be the only coherent judge on the panel. I can see Mariah and Nicki just getting into sex kitten fights. Gonna be cringe worthy TV. Simon Cowel must be laughing his head off at the mess that idol has been since he left. Having 4 people on the panel is gonna be a pain again. Do they remember the Randy/Simon/Kara/Paula debackle?

  8. bill says:

    I am dumbfounded why they picked this panel of judges. Niki M is a judge? SHE CAN’T SING!!! The smart choice would have been to bring Adam Lambert on to the panel. It’s too bad Nigel has an ego the size of Mount Rushmore- Epic Fail Idol- time to turn off the T.V.

    • Greg says:

      Lithgoe is daydreaming if he thinks Minaj will bring in more viewers than Adam Lambert. Lambert fans should teach Lithgoe a lesson and not tune in.

  9. promotewho says:

    Reblogged this on Promotewho.

  10. A says:

    I stopped watching this show after the season with David Cook but I think that considering the fact that so many of the contestants as well as winners and runner-ups are country singers.its a good thing that they finally have country singer judge.

  11. Jen says:

    Keith Urban has more musical knowledge than anyone else on that panel. Watch and see.

  12. Lynn says:

    I like the choice of Keith Urban. I really enjoy him on the Aussie version of The Voice. My second choice would have to be Melinda Doolittle . . . loved her on Idol, love her on Idology. But alas, the producers of idol obviously don’t share my tastes. Randy . . . yawn, but a good exercise program . . .reaching over to pickup the remote then having to move my finger on/off fast forward button. The Diva . . . hmmmmm, I am skeptical that she will step out of her ego enough to be interesting, but I could be wrong. Her hubby is a fun kick in the butt on the AGT. Just my 2 cents worth of thoughts.

  13. Danielle says:

    I’m okay with all the judges expected Niki if she goes away I will watch American Idol
    again over all I’m done watching this show I can’t stand miss barbie she can go to hell.

  14. Barb says:

    What do I want from them? Not a thing! I won’t be watching. After 11 years Idol is dead to me now that it has embarked on becoming Ghetto Idol adding Nicki to the mix, and don’t even get me started how far off they are in claiming Randy to be a fan fav. I don’t have faith this group is going to be capable of discovering a talented idol I’d be remotely interested in. Mariah is an overpaid has been, which I blame Randy his influence, having them waste so much money on. Keith… Well country ain’t my thing so if another WGWG is on the judge panel or takes the win holds no interest for me either.

  15. Name That Tune says:

    Between all of these singing competition shows, I’m completely bored with the process and the concept. Doesn’t matter who the judges are, but with this specific show, the judges have been abysmal since Simon left. Can’t see that I’ll be watching come January. I’ve already tuned out on The Voice and The X Factor.

    Give me some real entertainment. Come on Once Upon A Time and Fringe.

  16. Caro says:

    I don’t bother checking out Idol until the top twelve are picked so I’m not a diehard but I find this panel very disappointing. I think it is a mistake to pick musicians with a career who are still trying to sell records. Anyone who feels they need to court the public is going to do so and that doesn’t make for good television or honest judging. They should pick people like Simon who works behind the scenes to find or manage talent but who aren’t trying to cater to the whims of the public to stay on top. I think we’re in for another disappointing season!

  17. elr says:

    So, now we know that Mike Darnell is delusional, “fan favorite Randy Jackson” on what planet is that I’d like to know…

  18. Ron says:

    WORST JUDGES PANEL EVER!!! Keith Urban is the only sane and sensible one there. You got a Diva, a Clown, and a Freak. I will absolutely NOT watch AI this year. I’m done! Urban must really need the money to join that group of characters. You know Jackson needs this gig, because without it he just goes back to being a studio musician. And Minaj needs it because her career is going nowhere. You’ve got a mindless dolt that can’t speak the english language, a Rap “singing” freak that has no business judging other people that actually can sing, and a Diva that will want all the attention on her. Then you have Keith Urban. I’ll be surprised if he lasts the whole season, unless he’s locked in by the contract. You just knew this was going to happen when all the good choices turned them down. This is what they wind up with. PITIFUL!

  19. Stacie says:

    Absolutely will not be watching…I don’t care for any of the judges. However, I’m sure they’ll still have high ratings…unfortunately.

  20. jane says:

    A.I. better go ahead and invest in some more of those bleep signs Tyler held up to his mouth for the last 2 years. Nikki Minaj is a foul mouth non talented moron. I can’t believe that they actually went out and found a worse replacement for JLO. And Randy is still there? Seriously? Maybe Keith Urban will turn out to be a decent judge. I was looking forward to watching this year after the announcement of Mariah Carey joining the panel. But, now I don’t know if I will.

  21. Vicki says:

    What credentials does Nicki have to be a judge? She hasn’t done that much or been in the business that long. She needs to go. I think they brought her on for the sparks to fly between her and Mimi, and with all the other voice shows, AI is a bit desperate. With the addition of Keith, they bring in the country fans but also a true musician who has been in the business for years, plays guitar like a master, sings and composes his own music. I notice in this pic they have Keith between the two divas..poor guy.

  22. Gala says:

    Michael, I love you from Season 8 …but who said that randy is fan-favorite??!!! Everybody I was talking to is tired and sick of him!!!!

  23. Ally Oop says:

    Thrilled about the addition of Keith Urban but not the rest. Adam Lambert and Shania Twain would have been good judges and so would Enrique Iglesias. Randy is boring. Nikki Minaj is annoying. Mariah could go either way.

  24. Sheila says:

    I will not be watching American Idol anymore. I cannot think of a worse group of judges. I totally agree with the people who say why have a rapper who can’t sing judge singing. I mean, what are they thinking? I was already leaning towards not watching this season because of the Philip Philips debacle. It was the last straw for me. I was not happy when Haley didn’t win (and yes her cd is great) or Crystal Bowersox, or Allison Iraheta or, you get the picture strong female singers. I’m done.

  25. Shell says:

    Well,the truth is out-and the truth will set you free-at least,it will set me free,from watching judges being unnecessarily cold,arrogant and cruel to contestants who are not talented enough to get the golden ticket.I watched the first show of the current season and thirty minutes of the second show-and was disgusted even with k.u.(cheque,please!).The rest of the judges are equally bad,but keith was a nasty surprise.And by the way-I loved Simon,even though sometimes he’d piss me off,and Paula was usually sweet,and you do need sugar(or honey)to swallow bitter medicine(criticism).Never a real fan of Randy but could deal with him when he was with p.a. and s.c. Adam Lambert shows everything that A I. should be,and will probably never be again.But A.I. without Simon and Paula-yeah,right.There is no balance.
    Shell-out.

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