Entertainment » Television

’Idol’s’ Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj & Keith Urban Step Up

by Fred Topel
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Wednesday Jan 16, 2013
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After two years with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez sitting on the judges’ panel, "American Idol" has completely revamped its roster. Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban join Randy Jackson to offer advice to the next generation of vocal artists auditioning before America.

Already the new judges are making headlines as Carey and Minaj have reportedly feuded during the auditions. They sat together on a panel for the Television Critics Association and calmly explained what they fight about.

"This is a very passionate panel," Carey said. "I think there are a lot of strong personalities, and starting this process, I felt like it was a possibility that there could be differences of opinions. The fighting is what it is. It’s ’American Idol.’ It’s bigger than all that. It’s bigger than some stupid, trumped up thing. I think it’s about the next huge talent, superstar that will come from this show."


Say something nice...

When prompted to say something nice about each other, Minaj showed her respect. "That actually is easy," Minaj said. "I say nice things about Mariah all the time, and I even tell her all the time how much of a fan I am of her. She’s one of my favorite artists of all time, and I think she’s really shaped a generation of singers. To be on a panel with her, it’s kind of crazy because all these singers that come in, they aspire to be a Mariah Carey in terms of their talent, and in terms of their career length, and so I feel excited to see them see someone who they look up to so much and to be given a chance to sing in front of her and hear her critique."

Carey returned the favor for Minaj. "Nicki and I worked together very early on in her career and did a song that was from an album that I had done called ’Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,’ and it’s called ’Up Out My Face’ ironically, and actually, it was one of my favorite videos and songs. I did know and I did feel that she was going to go very far, and still have that feeling."


A distraction

Video has emerged of Carey and Minaj fighting, so they must have come a long way to mend fences. The singers would prefer we focus on the new talent coming through "Idol."

"The whole thing is convoluted and it’s a distraction from the show, and it’s a distraction from the contestants," Carey said. "I think it’s unfair to them, really, because it shouldn’t be about any of us sitting up here. It should be about the contestants."

Minaj added that it’s not uncommon for work to breed a little hostility. "We’re professionals," Minaj said. "Have you ever had an argument with someone you worked with?"

To speak about the contestants, Urban reaffirmed how a tough, conflicting panel could motivate an aspiring artist. "The fuel for the fire for an artist is often not the people who believe in us and tell us positive things," he said. "It’s often the people who are negative. That’s been my experience anyway. The people that said, ’You’ll never do this. You can’t do that.’ Those people have actually been far more influential in my motivation to achieve things. And so hopefully the way in which we say no to each of these artists is done in a way where it’s not brutal or cold or callous. It’s just being truthful for an artist that’s gotta hear it, and a lot of the time they’re surrounded by sycophantic people or their family who would tell them they’re the most amazing thing, and they’re not the most amazing thing. They’re okay. They’re not great. But they could be great, and hopefully we can help them a little bit get up towards it."


Constructive criticism

Perhaps previous judges were too softball to really help a wavering artist advance. Minaj has no qualms about being brutal, but constructive.

"When I watch these shows and someone says ’yes’ to a person who clearly doesn’t deserve it, it bothers me," Minaj said. "It bothers me in my soul, and I want to jump through the TV, because I feel like for the people who are talented there, it kind of minimizes or takes away from how talented they really are. So when I came on, I didn’t really have a problem with saying ’no’ because I kind of felt like we’re looking for the best of the best. I remember just watching from home, I didn’t like when people would be just overtly passive about the talent, because we’re really here to do a job, and I don’t want to be here if I’m not really going to do it. I don’t feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story or because there’s something going on that may make people cry, because I feel like even the great singers have stories that may make us cry, but that shouldn’t change our decision because it’s kind of unfair to the ones who really are great."

Urban agrees, because he got where he is by failing at some talent shows on his way up. "Actually, I did three of these shows," Urban said. "When I was really young, I went on this show called ’Pot Of Gold’ when I was nine. And then I did two other shows one called ’Stairway to the Stars’ and one called ’Have a Go!’ I also know what it’s like to be really, really crucified by somebody, because I got crucified at nine years of age by one of the judges. I don’t think you ever get out of paying your dues. Nobody wants to pay their dues. Nobody wants to spend 15 years traveling around. If we could shortcut that, we would do that. Any human being would shortcut that. But I do think that this show can give you a springboard, but you’re going to have to learn the ropes. You’re going to have to learn to put a set list together, how to put a show on. I got to do that in front of two people in a club, and these guys get to do it in front of an arena full of people. So you will pay your dues somewhere, somehow."


Work Hard

If you take her advice and work hard, Minaj will fight for you, but you have to show her you’re learning. "By the time they get to Hollywood Week, I’m like I feel, like, ’If you don’t do it, I’m going to take it personal,’" Minaj said. "We had a couple of instances like that when I was telling the contestants, a couple I think, ’Please, I can’t fight for you anymore after this time. I need you to step up.’"

While committed to ’Idol’ auditions and the upcoming live TV schedule, the judges are maintaining their careers as recording artists.

"I’ve actually been balancing my career with the show the whole time," Minaj said. "When we first started, I think in October, I was doing a tour. Since we’ve been back, I’ve been doing spot days and appearances and other stuff but it’s great because it’s not like we come to work Monday through Friday nine to five. We can schedule around it. In fact, tonight when I go home, I have to record three verses for three other people’s albums. So it doesn’t stop. I think that, when you’re used to multi-tasking, when you’re used to a busy schedule, it’s almost like if I’m not busy, then I feel weird. It just keeps on going, and when you want the career to stop, then you stop working. But if you don’t, then there’s always a way to balance it."

Carey was reluctant to accept the show at first, but has found it rejuvenating. "It’s been really good for me because it actually makes me stop and take a break because I too, will just continue working," Carey said. "This is my life. This is all I know how to do. Now I have to also take care of two little babies with help. Yes, the help helps me out, the nannies help me out. Yay, nannies. Honestly, I think it’s a great thing because it’s such a worldwide brand that people have grown to love. It’s become part of people’s family, ’American Idol.’ Doing this for a living and continuing what I do, for me, has been a lot of fun. It’s something I never expected to do, never really thought I’d do."

Urban had a bit of experience before, appearing on the Australian incarnation of "The Voice." "I think, again, coming from a little bit of that when I was a kid, there was a synergy about it that I really loved. And I genuinely love artists. They’re like my brothers and sisters, whatever age they are. I see myself in small ways in every single one of them. So I love being able to maybe help them shed some of the things that they’ve got going on as you do when you’re 16 or 21 or whatever it is. But the camaraderie that I found with these three guys four, really, with Ryan [Seacrest] as well was just really welcoming. I didn’t expect the sort of warmth that I felt, you know. I felt like a little family with these guys. So I really love that part of it."

The new season of "American Idol" premieres Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 on Fox.


Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj at the "American Idol" special premiere, January 9, in LA

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