Michael Becker/FOX
Adam B. Vary
September 16, 2012 AT 11:13 PM EDT

Now that American Idol‘s season 12 judges have officially been announced — Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nicki Minaj, joining Idol lifer Randy Jackson — the nation can finally turn from wildly speculating over who will step into the judges’ table to wildly speculating over how much of the show’s budget this season will be spent on wigs. Also: How will the eighth, ninth, and tenth judges in the show’s history fare when attempting to deliver quippy criticism to wannabe singers who weren’t alive when Carey’s first through fifth albums were released?

Who will be the “mean” one? The “nice” one? The “crazy” one? The “useless” one? Who’s most likely to spontaneously cry? To spontaneously dance? To provide thoughtful, constructive feedback that is both honest and entertaining to hear? (It could happen!) We will have to wait until January to see them all in action, but based on the judges’ personas and Idol history, here’s our best assessment of Idol 4.0:


At first, Carey’s place on the panel seems self-evident: She’s in the J.Lo seat. Which is to say, she’s the beautiful diva superstar who will make great stank faces, occasionally provide helpful-if-self-referential commentary, and otherwise play it safe while she waits for her career to get a booster shot as tween girls learn who, in fact, she is. But there have also been rumblings that Carey may not be super-duper nice, nor super-duper punctual, which suggests she may emulate Idol‘s original center of gravity: Simon Cowell.

Prediction: At best, J.Lo’s maternal warmth and beauty lighting matched with Simon’s early season truth-telling and pithy put downs. At worst, J.Lo’s refusal to make eye contact with the live audience matched with Simon’s late season apathy.


Unlike his fellow Idol newbies, the Aussie country singer has had at least a season’s worth of experience as a reality singing competition show judge, on the recently concluded first season of the Australian version of The Voice. Urban earned rave reviews for his thoughtful, kind presence on that show, and he certainly brings a studliness to Idol‘s judging table that it’s never really experienced before. But flanked by two outré pop divas, Urban’s comparatively low-key demeanor runs the risk of being swallowed up in a flurry of sparkles and day-glo onesies.

Prediction: At best, a heretofore unprecedented level of coherent and appealing industry know-how that also happily Twitterpates straight ladies and gay men. At worst, Kara DioGuardi’s ham-handed pointlessness with Ellen DeGeneres’ pollyanna uselessness.


Let’s not kid ourselves: Nicki was hired to be the love child of Paula Abdul and Steven Tyler. At the very least, she will give Mariah a run for her money in the can-you-believe-what-she-was-wearing?! department. But as my colleague James Hibberd has already noted, Nicki’s best contribution to Idol could be as an advocate for hip-hop and rap artists, which Idol has all but ignored over 11 seasons.

Prediction: At best, Steven’s wacky irreverence matched with Paula’s occasional bouts of daffy coherence. At worst, Steven’s disinterest in saying anything of consequence matched with Paula’s inability to say anything lucid.


For a brief, shining moment, it looked like Randy had been retired to Idol mentor status, but then Enrique Iglesias’ flirtation with the judges’ table proved to be just a tease, and Randy’s vise-like grasp on the show lasted for another season — aided, certainly, by the fact that he’s Mariah Carey’s manager. The real tragedy of Randy Jackson is that, whenever he’s out of range of Idol‘s cameras and klieg lights, the man is capable of genuine, expressive insights into the music business. Perhaps having his top client sitting three chairs away from him will bring out something new in the dawg?

Prediction: At best, Mariah’s presence raises Randy’s game, and his vocabulary. At worst, Mariah’s presence means Randy will let her have all the best lines and insights, and he’ll be even more of a wind-up toy of yos, dawgs, and you did your things.

So what do you make of American Idol‘s new judging panel? Who do you think will be the best judge?

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Read more:

‘American Idol’ announces judges: Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj confirmed

Mariah Carey gets the Nicki Minaj phone call: A very special ‘American Idol’ dramatization

Steven Tyler criticizes ‘American Idol’: ‘Not my cup of tea’

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