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After weeks of breathless, pearl-clutching promotion for the infamous Nicki Minaj vs. Mariah Carey fight, tonight’s American Idol revealed what prompted Minaj’s freakout in the first place. The Charlotte auditions episode featured a somewhat rational debate (prompted by Minaj) on whether a contestant should feel “forced” to “do the country thing,” and then we saw Minaj determinedly stomping off the set after complaining that “Maybe I should get off the f—ing panel.”

What we didn’t see, of course, was a single second of Minaj’s cringe-inducing motormouth-y rant captured in October’s buzz-magnet handheld video. In fact, it’s likely the “fight” we saw tonight had no real linear connection with the leaked footage, which makes the over-promotion even more obnoxious. Fox chose to save face — including any of that leaked footage on-air would be a huge turnoff, and Minaj has enough detractors as it is.

It all started when 20-year-old Summer Cunningham claimed “I did the country thing; now I’m more of a soulful country thing.” This set Keith Urban off — “it’s like saying ‘I did the brain surgeon thing!'” he protested, confirming my lifelong suspicion that country music and brain surgery are exactly the same. Randy Jackson and Mariah agreed that Summer sounded better in the country vein because of the “natural yodel” in her voice — and even Summer herself admitted that country music inspired her to start singing and that “it’s just so real, it’s like being home.”

Minaj wasn’t involved in any of that, so when it was her turn to speak — stunningly, this was an audition she had yet to steamroll — she sighed dramatically and whined, “For a minute I thought it was, like, a country music debate. Why are we like picking her apart because of a country comment? It’s like you’re scaring her into lying. You’re forcing her to claim something.” (Something = that Summer would agree to stay on the country path should she continue on.)

Mariah Carey was all, “No, we’re trying to help her, instead of talking about her outfit.” (Carey later complained that Minaj had stolen her flounce move — “I was gonna do that the next time [Minaj] ragged on me,” she said.)

So! Despite executive overlord Nigel Lythgoe’s support and excitement towards the brawl….

…..the whole thing was a non-starter, really — though the question about whether judges should influence the contestants’ musical style is a decent one. Most of the kids are so desperate to move on that they’ll try anything the judges suggest. But if Mariah Carey told you your voice sounds prettiest in a certain style, wouldn’t you at least listen? Just because Mimi’s hair isn’t an Edible Arrangement doesn’t mean she can’t have an opinion!

“Watch the tape and you’ll understand,” Minaj insisted.

Well, I did watch the tape and now I can’t believe I’m still addressing the judges’ tiff because the Charlotte auditions delivered a TON of great talent tonight.

Who was your favorite? I’m stuck between returning contestant Candice Glover and overbearing but well-intentioned social butterfly Ashley Smith. You?

Stay tuned for my full recap later on. Update: Here it is!

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