If there’s one reason to tune into American Idol this season, it’s Nicki Minaj.
In the two years without the acerbic Simon Cowell, the American Idol judging panel was nothing more than a cheerleading squad which became increasingly and frustratingly stale. We were treated to the idiocy of Randy “For Me, For You” Jackson, the repetitive effusiveness of Jennifer “I Have Goosies!” Lopez, and the frivolousness of Steven “Well Hellfire, Save Matches, F*ck A Duck, And See What Hatches” Tyler.
In this twelfth season of American Idol, Nicki Minaj outshines her fellow judges, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and, yes, still Randy Jackson. She is entertaining, opinionated, and passionate: all the ingredients of a successful and likable television personality.
Like Simon Cowell, Nicki Minaj doles out brutal honesty and sticks by her opinions. She was a champion and supporter of contestant Papa Peaches, praising his vibrancy and originality in his initial audition. But in Hollywood Week, after a string of uninspired performances, including the predictable “You and I” by Lady Gaga, Nicki told him:
“I’m pretty sure that flame is now completely burnt out. I’m so disappointed. I don’t know why you would choose that song. I can’t believe you’ve allowed the competition to just suck that amazing quality out of you… I just hope you realize how special you are.”
Coming from the eccentric Nicki, her disappointment lands hard, as her words are devastatingly honest. But unlike Simon, she doesn’t come off as needlessly antagonistic or mean-spirited; nasty for nasty’s sake. You feel that she does actually care about the contestants.
Through her clear and direct critiques, Nicki Minaj gives contestants the reality check they deserve. Contestant Paul Jolley gave an impassioned excuse of nerves to the judges before a crucial solo performance. When the song concluded, Nicki put Paul in his place:
“You walked out so defeated and that really irritated me. It’s such a turn off. Just give us one minute of professionalism and focus, so you don’t break in the middle of your song.”
Who knew that of these judges, Nicki would turn out to be the most professional mentor as well?
Nicki Minaj doesn’t mince her words and doesn’t shy away from harsh critiques that my tarnish her reputation. Contestant Matheus Fernandes was featured with the sob story of overcoming his small stature. Never failing to mention his height, he opened a solo performance with an irritatingly self-deprecating, and self-servicing introduction to the judges: “I’m twenty-two years old. Not ten… When I mentioned to people that I wanted to be on the show, they’d laugh at me.” This heavy-handedness became tiresome, and thankfully and mercifully, Nicki gave him the hard truths he needed to hear:
“Sometimes things can go from being inspiring to becoming you wanting a pity party. And once you’re great, we don’t even notice your height. You don’t have to milk that ever again. Ever. Be you, be great, and just rest in your talent after today.”
In the end, Matheus Fernandes did not make the cut. How refreshing that Nicki is a judge who isn’t swayed by sob stories.
This is not to say that Nicki Minaj is all negative all the time. In fact, some of Nicki’s most shining moments are some of her most praising, like when she tells standout Candice Glover: “I’m obsessed with you. I want to skin you and wear you,” or her effusive praise for the quirky and endearing Charlie Askew: “Today, you became an artist in my eyes. You have this quirky thing that is so odd, that it’s right. You are so, so special.” Nicki isn’t afraid to shower the right contestants with praise and you can tell that she has a strong investment in the success of these singers, which can only strengthen their talents.
We shall see how well Nicki Minaj will fare come the live shows. That will be the ultimate test of her worth. Ellen Degeneres came off as playful and witty in American Idol season nine’s Hollywood Week, but during the live shows, she was hesitant to provide any constructive criticism whatsoever.
Not to mention, I am just digging this season’s judging panel’s vibe in general: Nicki Minaj provides a biting antidote to Randy Jackson’s inanity, Keith Urban’s enthusiasm is genuinely infectious, and Mariah Carey is… inoffensive at best. Based on the auditions and Hollywood Week rounds, it looks like season twelve will have a judging panel worth watching, or at least one worth not muting.