Nicki Minaj somehow manages to render Mariah Carey the beta diva. Plus, contestants! 
Nicki Idol
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Welcome back to Mr. Dawg’s Wild Ride, one of the longest-running attractions in this fantasyscape we call Reality! American Idol is back, and set squatter Randy Jackson’s got a new trio of friends, two of whom hate each other. Don’t worry, it’s fun! You’re going to LOVE watching Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey come up with hundreds of slightly different ways to paraphrase “You’re an old bitch” and “You’re a talentless hack.” Really! Just look at Keith Urban. He’s thrilled about it.

By the second hour of NYC auditions, Nicki had completely taken over the panel — shouting out directions to the contestants and always speaking first. You know, it’s generally fine if someone feels the need to do that. Compared to the autopilot judging on The X Factor and even Idol last season, I am thrilled to have someone in the driver’s seat, and beyond ecstatic that all four judges appeared to be awake and even [gasp!] interested in what was happening. The question is whether millions of American Idol viewers will accept and enjoy that our season 12 chauffeur appears to be rainbow sherbet wig enthusiast Nicki Minaj. It’s honestly a lot to swallow. And it tastes nothing like delicious sherbet. Not yet.

I was impressed and surprised by how many “okay” contestants the judges turned down — especially in the case of cancer survivor and Broadway hopeful Evan Ruggerio. Maybe they knew a White Guy With Guitar And One Leg would too easily win it all, and that’s why they cut him so soon. They were ultimately right — his voice was fine, but nothing special. But I imagine that if they proceed to let truly mediocre contestants onto the Hollywood round, viewers could complain about Evan, who was inspiring and sweet. I was also surprised they turned away Jessica Rose Kartalis after one botched guitar/vocal mishap, and especially after Randy had ridden the ferry (a boat, Ryan!) to go and retrieve her all the way from Staten Island. This was refreshing, though — it’s cool to see the judges express conviction and then carry it out. We all know when some of the golden ticketers won’t stand a chance in Hollywood. Better to get the disappointment out of the way now.

No, Keith, Google it, I hope so, J. Lo please stop interning in the Idol graphics department, Yes, and MAYBE.

NEXT: Heyyyyyy, congrats! You’re going to Hollywood! Who are you? As always, there were a couple sequences of two or three great singers clutching their slivers of Willy Wonka currency. We never saw their names or heard their voices. Bummer. In fact, 41 hopefuls made it through from the New York auditions. We saw eight. They are….

First up: 28-year-old Tenna Torres from Queens, who attended something called “Mariah Camp” when she was 13. I’m stunned if Mariah Camp actually took place near trees, as suggested in a photo. Good for Tenna for suggesting that the only way “it might dawn on her” about who Tenna was is if Mariah happened to remember the particular outfit she (Mariah) had been wearing in a photo of the two of them. Hilarious. Tenna’s rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend” was slow and soulful, and she received a transmission from hell — Keith Urban’s chair in between Nicki and Mariah — that Keith admired Tenna’s “patience and pace.” I liked how Mariah acted all wistful and dreamy-eyed at the beginning of the song, eventually revving up enough energy to activate a slight fist pump that showcased her giant butterfly ring. Go ’90s!

Then we met a 21-year-old college student named Christina “Isabelle” — and what is that all about? Is “Isabelle” to be her stage name? If so, can it please be in quotes to make it that much more absurd? Perfect. Christina had recently lost over 50 pounds, because everyone has to have a story. She looks great and she’s still goin’. “Summertime” was a little rushed for my taste, but it’s only the first round after all and she probably didn’t want to get cut off. Very strong voice. — or as Nicki said, “a combination of amazing skill with beautiful tone and beauty.” All of those things! Keith Urban appreciated that “Isabelle”‘s “humanity came through, unfiltered.” He’s quite poetic, this one. I’m a big fan of Keith so far. Randy wanted to make “Isabelle” came back confident, and I doubt that’ll be a problem.

The best part of this segment was at the end, when despite the fact that “Isabelle” had just racked up 50 bonus points for knowing that Mariah’s mom was an opera singer, the Regina George of the judging panel found it necessary to hiss after the proud Berklee College of Music student that she was not impressed. “I went to The School of F—ing Life, okay?” ACTUAL QUOTE.

Later on, in a desperate attempt to turn the spotlight away from Randy Jackson (a rarity) and back onto her, Nicki claimed she used to want to be a bus driver — presumably, the one that ran over Regina George. So not fetch.

NEXT: Undies are not shorts! Shira Gavrielov is an absurdly thin noodlewoman in comically short white shorts who sang a middling cover of Amy Winehouse’s version of “Valerie.” She once had a No. 1 single in Israel, but what’s more important here is those shorts. I have some underwear that look like those shorts. I think they were marketed as “boyshorts.” But they’re UNDERWEAR. Anway, she’s a hottie and to top off the shorts, she childishly stammered out “New York is the Big Apple and I wanted to have a bite.” Whoa. She’s totally in. Right? Randy, Keith, and Nicki screamed “Yes!” after Randy counted to three, while Lady Mariah chimed in half a beat later — on purpose.

Next up: the thoroughly delightful Frankie Ford, 24, who sings on the subway to make money and has “every intention of outworking everyone here.” What does he think this is, Annie? He won’t have to clean the mansion or sing on the stoop. He’ll get to live in it! (And he’ll probably sing on the stoop.) Silly Frankie. Professor Minaj started to explain the New York subway system to Keith Urban and America, and Keith was instantly all “Bish please — I too played on the train.” Love it!

Poor Frankie –“Double F!” cried out Randy in vague recognition of the alphabet — started out too sharp on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but he eventually collected himself and was able to relax, delivering a smooth rendition with plenty of his own tonal shifts. I like how confident and genuine he is — so often, the gifted and talented are just one or the other. The hearty handshake he offered bit player Ryan Seacrest was sublime. “Thank you, sir!” Coming up: Frankie goes to Hollywood.

Sarah Restuccio, 17, is a good ol’ Jersey Girl — but not that kind. The Hammonton (Blueberry Capital of the World) native is the proud winner of tonight’s Best Occupational Chyron award:


Sarah’s grandma told her she had “a great aunt, or something, who was an opera singer.” Who cares? Blueberry farm! This girl was so utterly charming. She grew up with country, so Sarah tried out “Mama’s Song” by Carrie Underwood, which slightly underwhelmed. It wasn’t as pretty as she was, but it was pleasant enough. Just not exceptional. Randy tentatively asked her if she could do something else.

Sarah’s eyes brightened. “I sing Super Bass,” she announced — the present-day equivalent of the 1980 film Airplane!‘s “I speak jive.” Perfect! Sarah killed that one and seemed to be having way more fun in the process. Keith politely said he found the different parts of her personality encouraging, Randy asked Sarah “Who do you want to be?” and then suddenly Nicki Minaj was on a ferocious tear, running her motormouth at breakneck pace as if in direct competition with Sarah’s audition and talking over three other people while leaping wildly from topic to topic.

“So many girls on a farm sing Super Bass, HELLO, Taylor Swift made Super Bass hot!” “Boys are gonna love her because she’s pretty.” “What Keith is saying, Mariah….” “She doesn’t have to choose one!” ……and it went on and on. There was no need to be so combative — no one was arguing with her! When Keith eventually gave Sarah a yes, because duh, Nicki dramatically sighed, “Thaaaaaaank you, Keith. I really believe in this girl!” As if she were the only one. I desperately wanted a surprise cameo from Supernanny Jo Frost. There’s still hope yet — it’s only episode 1.

NEXT: The Best Exotic Marigold Turban “Is there anything interesting about yourself?” Nicki asked the next hopeful. “I’ve had hearing problems my whole life,” insisted 18-year-old Angela Miller. Whew! At least this wouldn’t be a waste of time. The perky sweetheart with major Katy Perry face gave my favorite audition of the night with Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best” — “a favorite today,” Mariah muttered disgustedly in one of her zestiest asides of the night. Angela showed excellent restraint in knowing when to make notes softer, and i was mesmerized by some of her admittedly basic hand gestures. Perhaps she is made of magic. Keith liked the way she “moved closer to us” (read: him). “All day long, we haven’t had tone — a real tone with a real soul behind it and just a beautiful texture,” raved Mariah (read: UNLIKE YOU, NICKI).

Angela was in it to win it, but Angela’s mom was in it for the Ryan Seacrest hug following her daughter’s triumph. So funny. I also love Angela’s big bearded boyfriend (maybe brother). General, non-sexual cuteness all around.

Mariah Carey immediately characterized the visual of young Gurpreet Singh Sarin, 22, ready to sing in his purple turban, as “a lavender moment that I really like.” Yep, pretty much. The Turbanator (™) has 40 to 50 turbans and, rest assured, “can bring that creativity and colorfulness to American Idol.” All you have to do is approve his wardrobe. His vocal on Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” was sadly nothing too special — pretty enough, but unremarkable. Keith probably had the right idea when he said the Turbanator would come in “too light” amidst all the power vocals of the competition. But the other three accessory-mongers, with visions of gilded turbans cloaking their own heads, gave Gurpreet a break. “I like light singing and breathy stuff, so I thought it was really pretty,” said Mariah, again talking about herself. It’s all good! He’s a nice kid. One of his turbans is marigold, to match Nicki’s “hair.”

I’m guessing we were all more emotionally impacted by Ashlee Feliciano‘s magnanimous family, who took in three medically challenged children and just radiated love and compassion, than we were bowled over by her “nice and clear” (said Mariah) rendition of “Put Your Records On.” The potential is definitely there, though, and Ashlee is incredibly likable. The “let’s meet your beautiful complicated family” moment in the audition room was lovely, but I was way more choked up as Ashlee broke into tears in a confessional while explaining how much she loved her parents. She cried —> I cried. It’s a rule.

Of course, we met a bunch of delusional sad sacks, but at least the carnage wasn’t mean-spirited. I didn’t really need to see another “token awkward Asian” segment (James Bae, Albert Chang), but at least at the end of James’ rejection he got to hug a friendly clown. Trivia non-expert Brett Holt’s segment allowed for some amusingly cheesy dream sequences, and when he mumbled his name out loud it sounded like “Butthole.” The flashiest and trashiest was Benjamin Gaisey, a large “ladies’ guy” from Sinking Spring, PA who’d stuffed himself into a red leather anti-superhero costume — the better to thrust his crotch at you with! Benny told Ryan he couldn’t zip up his jacket because “it’s from years ago.” Haha, okay.

Esteemed Colleague Email of the Night:

Kristen, these men are nihilists. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

And that’s it!

Did you think the judges’ antics overwhelmed the episode, or did you enjoy the dynamic after awhile?

Also, in case you missed this in August (and who reads websites in AUGUST?) — here’s how I envisioned the initial Mariah-Nicki conflict going down, way back when both judges were announced….

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Ask Annie anything about ‘Idol’ — or whatever — below.

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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