I’m not gonna lie to you: I hastily clicked on TMZ’s “MARIAH SNIPES AT NICKI/ NICKI GOES BALLISTIC/ CAUGHT ON TAPE” headline the minute it landed in my inbox late last night. And right after watching grainy footage of Ms. Carey and Ms. Minaj’s dustup during American Idol‘s Charlotte, NC, audition rounds, the following thoughts went through my mind:
* “Thank God there’s a transcript, because I can’t understand a word these chicas are saying.”
* “I wonder if Nigel Lythgoe scripted this — or at least slipped a bonus check under Nicki’s dressing-room door to encourage her to instigate this.”
* “Holy hell, this is going to be Idol‘s highest-rated audition episode ever.”
* And finally, “Ugh, I really don’t want to see a whole season of this mess.”
It’s that final realization that got me thinking: Whatever your opinion of Idol — from Kelly Clarkson’s confetti-rific “Moment Like This” a decade ago all the way to Phillip Phillips’ coronation last May — the show’s enduring appeal has always been its ability to discover talented kids toiling away behind pawn-shop counters or slinging hash in greasy spoons and, in a matter of a few months, transform them into viable chart-toppers. And it’s never really mattered who’s been behind the judges’ table: That gig has been held down by a cranky British record exec; a loopy pop princess 10 years past her Billboard expiration date; an awkward songwriter-producer; a too-genial comedian/talk-show host; a loopy, scarves-obsessed rock legend; a former Fly Girl turned multihyphenate gajillionaire; and a dude named Randy Jackson. Idol has remained at or darn close to the No. 1 show on television through evey one of those personnel changes.
Sure, in recent years, a lot of Idol‘s off-season buzz has been generated by the judges’ annual “will-they-or-won’t-they” dance, but the Mariah-Vs.-Nicki feud seems very different. Does anyone really want to tune in to Idol on a weekly basis to see, at best, a mouthy rap artist try to verbally slay one of the grand divas of this generation, or, at worst, watch yet another tired iteration of the “two powerful ladies can’t share the same air” stereotype that, frankly, seems like a terrible fit for a show that’s trying to appeal to tens of millions of women.
To be fair, the inevitable Season 12 diva-off might breathe some renewed interest into the audition rounds, which for years have been most stale part of the Idol process. (The promise of Mariah calling Nicki a “three year old” certainly sounds funnier than another off-key vocalist in a Statue of Liberty suit.) But I wonder if Uncle Nigel might not offer Minaj a golden ticket to anywhere but the Steven Tyler Memorial Chair once the live telecasts begin sometime in March 2013.
After all, it’s one thing to air carefully edited (and carefully bleeped) shouting matches on one of the few network hits that appeals to everyone from Grandma to Little Junior, but it’s quite another to pull the pin on that grenade in the midst of a live telecast. And even worse than suffering blowback from the FCC or family groups in the event of a Roman Zolanski meltdown, there’s a far greater risk to the long-term health and brand identity of Fox’s reality behemoth: Potentially upstaging its next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert. Without the wide-eyed, pre-platinum-selling versions of those kids, Idol would be as artificial and fleeting as Minaj’s next dye job.
What do you think? Is the Mariah-Nicki feud good for Idol, and if so, is this a long-term or short-term benefit? Do you worry that a nasty diva-off might irreperably damage the Idol brand? Hit the comments with your thoughts!