“American Idol” has had a revolving door of judges ever since original “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul quit the show in 2009 over a salary dispute. The Season 12 edition of “American Idol” in 2013 has a judging panel that’s almost entirely new to the show. Randy Jackson, who has been a judge on “American Idol” since the show’s 2002 debut, is still on the show. But this time around, he is joined by new “American Idol” judges Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj. (Jackson is Carey’s manager.) “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, who has also been with the show since the beginning, is also back for Season 12, which has a two-part premiere on Fox on January 16 and January 17, 2013, at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time.
The new judging lineup has already made headlines for the feuding between Carey and Minaj. Carey says that Minaj even threatened her with gun violence, but Minaj has denied those allegations. On January 9, 2013, “American Idol” held a sneak preview at various cities across the U.S. of the show’s Season 12 premiere. After the sneak preview, Carey, Urban, Jackson, Minaj and Urban did a Seacrest-moderated Q&A that was Webcast live from Los Angeles. They avoided the topic of the Carey/Minaj feud when they took pre-screened questions from Seacrest, audience members and people on Facebook and Twitter. Here is what they said:
Why did you want to be a judge on “American Idol”?
Carey: It’s “American Idol.” It’s the biggest show that started and changed trends in music. It’s created massive superstars. I think people are going to have massive careers. And also, I had just had two babies: Roc and Ro. And I thought it would be a good thing for me to have something that’s a little more stable than just constantly working. And working with this group of people
Minaj: I knew it was going to reach the masses. Like I keep saying, it wasn’t something that was expected of me to do … The producers were really, really sweet. I asked a lot of people I really care about if I should do it. And the last person I asked was Lil Wayne. And he said, “Absolutely do it.” And that was my last thing where I found peace with it. And then I did it.
Urban: I watched “Idol” for a lot of years. At the end of the day, I love singers, I love musicians, I love creative people. And I love what the show can do for people who are otherwise trying to find their way in. You guys out there know who sing or play, you’re just looking for a break. “How can I get someone to listen to what I do?” And this show does it on steroids.
Randy, why did you want to come back to “American Idol”?
Jackson: I love this show. This is the Picasso. There may be some trying to copy or duplicate, but you can’t copy the original. This is the true O.G.!
What’s changed in your judging from the beginning of the auditions to the end of Hollywood Week?
Minaj: I actually didn’t change my judging. I came in and I was very honest in my judging. The only thing that changed was that in Hollywood Week, because we had a different bond with the contestants, we’d been seeing them, and they’re almost like family now, so it was a little harder to say no. I would say that was the only thing because their families were there. That was emotional. That was the only difference.
Carey: For me, it was a complete journey for me. I think you saw that. I think everyone working for me saw that. I’ve always been my own boss. And that sounds weird, but I really mean it. So I had to get used to adapting to working within a specific … a different way.
And also, aside from the real reason, like, “Oh, I had my babies and I did this and I did that, and I thought it would be a great opportunity.” This is about the contestants, and the truth is, you do become attached to certain contestants who have a massive amount of talent. And at that point for me, it was a heart decision. It went way beyond, “Oh, who’s going to be the biggest star? Who’s going to be this or who’s going to be that?”
It was like, “I’m really attached to this contestant, and I don’t know how I really feel about letting them go.” I think my “style” of judging, if anything changed, it just became more honest and true. Not that in any way I was being disingenuous with somebody, but in the way of, “Wow, how do I let go of this person that I feel really attached to?”
Urban: No matter where you are, the TV screen finds you, and you just stop and this guy’s singing and you’re like, “Good lord! What’s going on? What’s that voice doing to me?” At the end of the day, that’s what the show is all about. And all the rest is just a crazy, big circus – a good circus, it’s a fun circus — but that moment is awesome.
Nicki, are there any contestants who reminded you of yourself?
Minaj: Remember I told you about this girl I named Big Crazy Barb? You guys are going to love her. She’s crazy like us. When you see her, you’re going to fall in love with her. She is just her own show.
Jackson: She just needs to be coiffed a little bit.
Minaj: No! No! Leave her alone! She’s fine!
Keith, as a songwriter, have you heard any great original music from the contestants?
Urban: Absolutely. There was a girl in Hollywood Week. I’m not going to say her name, because you guys will all see it when it happens. She’s 15, and she sang an original song, played piano … I said to her, “If you release that song tomorrow, people will buy it by the boatload.” So yeah, there’s some great original music coming.
Is it risky, in general, for a contestant to perform an original song?
Urban: No, it’s risky for someone to do a Mariah Carey song in front of Mariah Carey.
Carey: Or a Keith or anybody’s song. I think they liked it. It was kind of fun. It’s really difficult now days to get songs that have got a verse, a chorus, a middle eight, and a melody. Once you get them then those are the songs kids sing, and we all go, “Ugh.” And then you give them a whole list of 9,200 songs and they sing Etta James “At Last.” We can’t win sometimes with the music, but no, I do not believe hip=hop will become a genre on “American Idol.”
Jackson: It’s hard though because it’s a song nobody knows, so we don’t know what to judge it by, like, “It didn’t have enough melody in it. What was the chorus?” But this song [from the 15-year-old], [Keith Urban] is right. We were all really impressed.
Carey: I was impressed if somebody was a songwriter. I always asked them, “Do you write your own songs?,” because to me that adds to them as an artist. And every time they would do it and really do it well, I was very impressed because that’s my thing. I love to write songs.
Nicki, is there one thing a contestant can do for a good first impression? And if so, what is it?
Minaj: Flash me! Not now. In the privacy of the auditions. I don’t know. There were some boys that came in. One boy in particular took off his shirt and was trying to be all sexy.
Jackson: Wasn’t there some sort of signage going on with a couple of the contestants?
Minaj: Did I sign their boobs? I did!
Out of all the past winners of “American Idol,” who do you think has the best singing voice?
Carey: For me, it’s really hard to say. I feel like I would be remiss to judge the winners because a lot of them are very different. You go from a Carrie Underwood to a Fantasia, and they’re very, very different in their approach and in their style. But they’re both amazing.
I have so much more respect for the process of this whole thing that seeing people go through it, I’m like, “Wow, the people who have been on this show and had careers afterward, whether they won or didn’t win, it’s just amazing.” That would be my answer.
What’s your advice to “American Idol” contestants on having a long career?
Carey: You have to work like you can’t even imagine. It is extremely hard to do this for a living. And if you want a really long career, you have to work even harder, even when you’re sick.
And you have to love it. Really, it’s not about doing it if you want to be come famous or infamous or whatever. It’s about loving this as a lifestyle and loving music. That’s my two cents. Thank you for the question.
Urban: Staying relevant. Making that art that stays relevant and changes with the times and yet not losing yourself in the process. There are certain artists that keep doing the same thing, and actually that’s what their audience loves about them; they don’t want them to change.
And there are certain artists, we always want them to change. We don’t want to hear the same thing, whether it’s an Elton John or a U2 or whatever, we want them to keep changing. I think you’ve just got to be authentic and make art that’s relevant.
Nicki, how do you think about evolution?
Minaj: How do I think abut evolution? A lot of what Keith said makes a lot of sense, in that everyone’s journey is different. And fans expect different things from each artists. And I think the key to your own evolution is just being true to yourself. No matter what choice you make in your career, there will be some people that love it and some people that hate it.
I think, ultimately, as an artist, it’s about making a choice that you can sleep with at night. If you get to that point, it’s what everyone strives to do. Obviously, we want to do things that make our fans happy. That’s a given. Somewhere in that journey, we want to, rest assured, make the choice that we can live with as well.
What are your thoughts, Randy?
Jackson: And also, if you look at these three up here [Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj] … all of their careers are distinctly different. And what I will tell you is that almost every “American Idol” winner is unique to themselves. I think to have a career, you have to be compared against yourself. You’ve got to be uniquely different.
When you think about [David] Bowie, when you think about Jay-Z, when you think about Whitney [Houston], they’re uniquely different. If you want a career, you can’t be a copy of somebody else. You’ve got to be uniquely your own and be great all the time.
Mariah, who was your childhood idol?
Carey: My mother is the first person I ever heard sing. She sang all different styles of music. But she started as an opera, but in my house I was exposed to every … Keith and I were talking, if you’re one of those radio addicts, and you just listen to songs in general, that was my thing.
When I was a kid, I’d take the radio and hide under the cover and just listen to what was on there. [She says jokingly] Ryan was on the radio even then. It was perfect. [She says seriously] There are too many incredible singers to name, but we’re starting with number one: My mom was the first voice that I ever heard.
Nicki, what was your inspiration when you were growing up?
Minaj: Unicorns, rainbows. Unless you guys want me to give you a real corny answer. Do you want corny or kooky? I don’t know.
I think I dealt with a little bit of a dysfunctional household. And my inspiration was, “If I could just make it out of this, I could help my family.” And that was my driving force. I’ve said it for my entire career, but it’s the truth.
Sometimes if you attach your dreams to something bigger than you, then it’s impossible for you to ever stop. My thing was always, “I’ve got to get my family out of this kind of life. Even at times when I thought of giving up, that’s what made me always say, “Nope. Can’t. Got to keep going.”
Keith, why is it so hard to tell a contestant “no”?
Urban: First of all, it depends on the contestant. I think everyone handles criticism or “no” differently. I think if you walk onto “American Idol” and you’re wearing some wacky costume and you look legitimately crazy, I think it’s easier to say “no.”
Jackson: Really? Hang on, Keith.
Urban: I find it’s harder, like Nicki was saying, once we get into Hollywood Week and start making connections with people, it’s much harder to say no.
Randy, what are you looking for in a singer? What is the first thing that catches your eye, other than a compliment?
Jackson: There are three things that are real huge characteristics for me. It’s not even one thing: uniqueness, unbelievable talent and star potential. Those are the three things to me that make up great artists and give you a shot at a great career. If they’re coming in and singing and blowing me away, are they a star and is there anything unique about their voice or what they do or who they are or what they look [like]? Those are the things for me.
Did you have a lot of moments where you just looked at each other and said about a contestant, “You’re it”?
Mariah, how does it feel when a contestant sings one of your songs?
Carey: There was one time in particular when a girl sang one of my songs. Honestly, I don’t remember in particular which song it was right now. I thought she was really good, and I thought she was beautiful. And I thought, “This girl has a chance.” I’m not sure if she got through. I don’t think she did because in latter auditions … It was really good, and I was proud that I had written a song that she sang. Sometimes I think, “Is this for a laugh? Are we doing this for fun?”
Did you ever cringe when someone sang one of your songs?
Carey: No, that’s not me. I would never do that outwardly anyway. Keep it inside, darling.
Randy, you’re the only original “American Idol” judge who’s still on the show. When you have a new set of judges to work with, what do you do at the beginning of the season to bring the judges together?
Jackson: Listen, I think the thing is that these guys are all amazing professionals. I think the only thing we talked about was [something that] Nicki actually said earlier: You have to be real as a judge. You have to call it as you see it. We can’t all think the same thing.
Some people say, “You guys are saying all the same thing.” Well, sometimes, we think the same thing, but mostly, we’re all different, and we even had a lot of tiebreakers this season in the auditions, because two of us would say yes, two of us would say no.
And we had a different person in each city that would break the tie of their vote because we’re four distinct individual people. We just try and keep it real. That’s the most important thing: if you keep it real and honest about how you feel about somebody.
Keith, what has been the most fun part of this entire “American Idol” experience?
Minaj: He means his wife, Nicci [Nicole Kidman].
Urban: I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t find that it’s one thing. It’s the dysfunctional family you see before you, I love being a part of. I love the unpredictability every day on the set.
What do you mean by that, Keith?
Urban: It’s just fun. The whole thing is fun. That’s the reality of it for me.
Minaj: Keith is really funny too. I don’t think you guys know that, and you won’t know it until you watch the show. He’s hilarious. I’m serious. He has this dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Very quick.
Carey: It’s a caustic wit that gets you. It’s great though. It relieves you of a moment sometimes.
Urban: Moving on, moving on …
Diffusing humor, right?
Keith, what caused you to fall out of the chair?
Urban: You have to see the show because it’s in context to what happened two seconds before the chair collapsed. That’s all I can say. Either a glass was going to break or someone was going to fall off the chair. One of those things was going to happen.
Randy, if you could perform with anyone who’s alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Jackson: Wow, that’s a tough question. I don’t even know. I was always a huge Zeppelin fan. I was a huge Hendrix fan. Sly and the Family Stone. If I could perform with anybody right now? Radiohead. Dope band! Crazy!
Is there any chance that all of you would perform together on the same stage?
Urban: I’m in! [Jackson raises his hand.]
Carey: It’s open to negotiations.
Are you more focused on finding the next great vocalist or the next great entertainer?
Carey: To me, it doesn’t matter. The person could be unique in some way. There was one performer who was a street performer who was really unique and different. And then there were some amazing vocalists. And so, how do you compare the two? It’s really difficult. There are so many different genres. It was a learning experience. That’s what I found. The diversity plays into it in a deep way.
Urban: It’s interesting. We talked early on that we just went in to judging people, like, immediately figuring out what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we were going to send through. And it seemed confusing to all four of us. We sort of stopped and said, “Wait a minute. What is the bar? What are we looking for here?”
And the reality was we all react differently to different things. And so for me, at the end of the day, it’s just the artist that seems to speak to me, the person who’s creating art and saying something in a way that I’m just 100 percent captivated by that person. And there’s just no comparison between that person and the other person. I can’t take my eyes off of that one, you know? That’s it for me.
Minaj: I think that you’ll know it when you’re in the same room with it. Obviously, in the time that we’re living in now, we need an entertainer. Unfortunately, I asked someone recently, “If you name the 10 biggest stars right now, who would you say has a Whitney Houston voice?” That’s just not where we’re at right now.
So I think that because we’re at this day and time, I think that we’re looking for an all-around entertainer, someone who’s going to captivate people, with or without music. I think it’s more about who you are now. With social media, people now get a chance to really know who you are.
It’s not about just a record company giving you a song. It’s about, “We want to know, “Is this about you? Am I really inspired by you? Do I relate to you? Is what you say, is that who you are when you go home?”
It’s so many things. It’s kind of like the process of elimination. We all four vote on everyone. When it’s all said and done, America is going to vote, so America is going to decide who they want, whether they want a big singer or an entertainer. It’s not going to be us [judges who decide the winner]. It’s going to be you guys.
Jackson: For me, it goes back to the beginning of what you looking for. I want it all. I think the stage is set now to have an entertainer that has an incredible voice. Why can’t we? The people who inspired me and the inspired you guys really kind of have it all. I think there are a couple of people right now have it all. I think Beyoncé has it all. I think and I know that you can have it all, and that’s what I want.
What did you say to the first person you talked to after Hollywood Week was over and about what people will see on the show? What are you the most proud of in the contestants?
Carey: Do you think I got into that detailed conversation about it? I was like, “I want to sleep.” Sometimes I would discuss different people if they were inspiring to me. Sometimes I would just kind of process things. I felt the whole journey was very interesting.
It is a question of, “Who is that big voice?” or “Who is that voice that moves you in a certain way?” It’s difficult to compare legends that may not be with us anymore or some that still are to a brand-new artist, because they may have an inkling of that person, but they’re never going to be that person.
They could be totally inspired by Bob Marley, but it’s going to be a rare day in wherever that you’re going to find the next Bob Marley. So, for me, it was like, “Wow, who is unique? Who is different? Who is extremely talented vocally?” That’s what I would mull over and think about.
Urban: I think at the end of the day, every single one f us watched somebody we loved not get to go through. And it’s very frustrating. But I also know that there are people that I loved that I’m thrilled that they’re going to go through. And I saw them in Hollywood, and it was very cool.
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