Photo Credit: Michael Becker / FOX
On Wednesday night, we got our first taste of American Idol, season 12. Warm and fuzzy it's not, but we've got to hand it to the show's producers. Once again, they've managed to refresh the formulaic process of finding the next singing superstar. This time, it's by focusing attention on a jaunty, loose-lipped judging panel. Their entertaining (and occasionally spiteful) musings are punctuated by contestant stories of heart-rending struggle or comical self-delusion. It works. Idol has been reborn.
The Simon and Paula show was carefully calculated good/cop bad cop. The J. Lo and Steven Tyler mix offered gentle-spirited experience. But the dynamic offered up by Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Randy Jackson? Well, it's snark, snark, and more snark -- instigated entirely by the two dueling divas who flank poor Urban. Here's an extended recap if you missed it:
And here are the five most over-the-top moments from the premiere episode, as this new Idol dynamic played out before our eyes…
1. The very first contestant had to literally beatbox his way into the audition room to capture the attention of the bickering panelists. The argument? Something about Mean Girls (ironic!) and who could remember the characters correctly. Contestant Number One turned out to be terrible and not memorable, but the moment still rates, because it set the tone for the whole episode. Replying to some petty name calling, Carey informed Minaj that "if you call me anything that starts with a ‘B’ and ends with an ‘itch’ -- I rebuke it!”
2. Soon thereafter, it was time for a comically bad audition. James Bae, a 15-year-old Justin Bieber wannabe with nerdy glasses, oversized headphones and an earnest determination, offered up the sort of painfully tone-deaf performance that viewers of early episodes have come to know and love. But the memorable part of his moment came next, when Minaj called the devastated kid over for a hug. "I really mean when I say that you are special, just not for this competition but for life in general," she purred. "I love that you own it."
3. When it comes to mocking deluded Idol wannabes, producers have now begun to go all out in the editing room. When the atonal Brett Holt, a "huge, huge American Idol fan," showed up, it was for the seventh time. "I just keep pursuing the dream, year after year," he said. So viewers got to see two fantasy montages, where Holt dreamed he was getting four yeses (one of them from "dawg"-happy Randy as an actual dog). Then came the real audition, when Holt made an earnest but pathetic attempt at singing "When I Fall in Love." And his dream died, again.
4. A Sihk American named Gurprett Singh Sarin told the judges that he likes to match his turban to his shirt, and that he goes by the nickname The Turbanator. Cue the Terminator graphics and faux movie promo! When Minaj told him he's going to Hollywood, he jumped up and down. Through the magic of TV, his turban flashed all the colors of the rainbow. Not too classy, Idol.
5. Even this bickering bunch of judges quieted down for Ashlee Feliciano, whose family fosters and adopts "medically complex" children. She nailed her audition, singing "Put Your Records On," by Corinne Bailey Rae. "That girl just blew me away," said Minaj. But she also won their respect. "It's not just how pretty you are," said Carey. "It comes from within."
In the end, Carey admitted she had a little bit of fun. "I feel like we gel well, in a weird, crazy way," said Minaj. Carey agreed. Judging from the scenes from Thursday night's episode, though, these two still have some fighting left to do.
The second part of the premiere airs tonight on FOX at 8 p.m. EST!