Michael Becker / FOX
Michael Becker / FOX
As season 12 of American Idol continues its search for America's next…idol, the judges continued their quest to prove that they have the right mojo to keep America entertained. The mixture of Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj is turning out to be quite a pleasant cocktail, just sweet and salty enough that Randy Jackson can just chill out and goad people once in a while. Jennifer who? Steven what? The old crew is fading from memory fast.
Minaj seems like she was born to be an American Idol judge. She sings at people in a British accent as they enter, kisses rejected male contestants on the head while telling them she loves them, and coos "I see you licking your lips playboy, what's really good?" at hot guys. Sometimes she appears to have so much fun playacting with contestants that she looks mildly hurt when they turn out to be Mariah Carey devotees.
Carey, on the other hand, seems to enjoy chilling out quietly in her wall of hair, nodding with a serene smile at the music and vibing out on whatever's in that giant Coke cup. The so-called "diva drama" that is supposed to transpire between Mariah and Nicki looks minimal at this point, as they seem to have become allies in a mission to let hot guys that Randy doesn't like get to Hollywood. At one point, Nicki even gushes, "Do you know what it's like to meet Mariah Carey?" They do banter a little on the second day, but it feels forced. We want to see what happens when girls get along!
Over on the pleasant side, there's Urban, who is basically a sweet, gentle rabbit excited to tell people they're good. Whenever things get awkward, he physically backs away like he wants to run home to Nicole Kidman.
And Ryan Seacrest? He just kinda slinks around in the hallways the whole time like a sneaky iguana.
In this episode, the new slew of judges seem confident that Chicago will shake out plenty of talent, maybe even a winner. It is where they found Jennifer Hudson, after all.
The first contestant to wow them is a country singer named MacKenzie Wasner, who practically brought the judges to her knees with her "star power." (This is a phrase tossed around quite often with these judges.) With her bleached blonde locks, she looks like she could play a manicure artist on Nashville.
Next up is Kiara Lanier, who sang for President Obama and even received a hug from him. After Nicki sang, "You're a cute little lady" at her, she proceeded to impress the judges and make it to the next step.
The ladies continued to kill it as 21-year-old Stephanie Schimel, a lingerie store employee from Milwaukee, made it through despite Nicki's protests. "We're wearing the same color eyeshadow today," Minaj told her, "We have a rivalry and that's why I said no." OK.
The show dealt with a couple rejects in between all these, like a guy named Kevin who cartwheels (showing off an awkward treasure trail) and Melissa Bush, who received a lot of dirty jokes from Nicki before getting a resounding "no."
But it was all about the successes in this episode, and there were plenty more to come. We've especially got our eye on Isabelle Parcelle, a lovely, freckle-faced 15-year-old with an old-school smoky voice. After convincing Keith to sing with her in a duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside," she came off so likable that even Simon Cowell (remember that guy?) probably would have given her a yes. We bet she'll make it to the top 10.
Then their small-town Idol Bus Tour swept in a man named Gabe Brown, who shook up the lady vibes with his manly rock-'n'-roll voice. A big guy who looks like Humpty Dumpty mixed with Raggedy Andy (but in uh, a rocker way), he gave the judges cookies and delighted Keith Urban to no end with his version of "Gimme Shelter." He made it through, but can a show like American Idol produce a true rock star? If so, will it be this guy? We think no and no.
A grown-up Bieber named Griffin Peterson then slipped his way to the next stage despite a mediocre performance, mostly because Minaj seemed tantalized by his 5 o'clock shadow.
St. Louis' Curtis Finch Jr. also got by thanks to his celestial voice, which Nicki responded to by shouting, "OMG let's have it for the boy boy boy!"
Then we dove into the sad/inspiring story of 19-year-old Mariah Pulice, a Selena Gomez ringer who is recovering from anorexia. How could you say no to that? It's good TV. And it's mean to say no. And these judges are nowhere near as mean as judges of yore.
As the judges continued being nice, they ushered in 17-year-old Brandy Neelly, 18-year-old Courtney Williams, 28-year-old Andrew Jones and 22-year-old Clifton Duffin, who had never sung in front of his parents before. Our bets are on Josh Holiday, a 24-year-old who can project his voice and moon at the camera in a very "American Idol-y" way. Back from season 11 as well is Johnny Keyser, a Jason Mraz-like bro who must have been better than he was last time.
Kez Ban, a 27-year-old who juggles flames and sometimes burns down tomato plants, showed up next wearing a silver hat and a broken boot, saying she was from "planet Earth." She kinda seemed like an ironic Parker Posey version of a feminist singer-songwriter, but the judges really dug that. We can't wait to see what kind of "TV" she makes as the season goes on.
On the tail end of the show we met Ashley Curry, 19, who sang "Mama Knows Best." Making Mariah Carey walk out of a room with your overwrought voice is probably nobody's dream, but she did it. Luckily, they sent in Cuba-born Lazaro Arbos to end the show. Watching him transition from a painful stutter to a beautiful rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was truly inspiring.
The episode ended on a good note, but to be honest the whole thing was one long good note. With "yes" being heard left and right, the upcoming season looks free of the Simon-designed cloud of negativity the show used to be known for. Diva drama be damned, the judges are playing nice.