PASADENA -- Tough love for the contestants. But, perhaps, not all that much love for each other?
If early indications of relations among American Idol's newly reconfigured judging panel are to be believed, the long-running Fox reality/competition series could be in for a tempestuous 12th season when it returns this Wednesday (7 p.m. on Fox and CTV).
When the Idol crew -- returning judge Randy Jackson, newcomers Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban, host Ryan Seacrest and the show's executive producers -- met with TV critics here last week during Fox's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, much of the focus was on the widely rumoured feud between Carey and Minaj, which was at least partially confirmed by a cellphone video acquired last fall by a tabloid-TV show.
Despite several attempts to deflect questions about the much-discussed audition-tour meltdown, as well as a request from one reporter for the two female judges to come up with one nice thing to say about each other, the press-tour session did little to dispel the suggestion that things are less than sunny in Idol-land.
"There is passion on this crew, and they disagree about a lot of the talent and about the way to approach the talent, and what the talent should be doing," said Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative entertainment. "It's not just the girls. It's everybody."
Jackson, the lone holdover from the original panel that included Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, said friction between the celebrity judges is nothing new.
"We've always, every season, had passionate people," he insisted. "I remember, what was it, first or second season me and Simon had a go? I mean, that's what the show is.... It was one of those heated moments. You know what I'm saying?
"That's what you want from the judges. That's what we want, because we're all passionate about these kids and these contestants, so... it's always a funny, kind of wild dysfunctional family."
Perhaps, then, the difference being noticed is between the firm hand being employed by this new set of judges and the relatively warm and fuzzy approach more common when Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler -- who tended to gush more often than they groaned -- were part of the Idol mix.
For her part, Minaj said she has no problem offering more of a tough-love perspective to judging talent.
"When I watch these shows and someone says yes to a person who clearly doesn't deserve it, it bothers me," she explained. "It bothers me in my soul, and I want to jump through the TV, because I feel like for the people who are talented there, it kind of minimizes or takes away from how talented they really are.
"So when I came on, I didn't really have a problem with saying no because I kind of felt like we're looking for the best of the best. And I remember just watching American Idol from home, and I didn't like when people would be just, I don't know, overtly passive about the talent, because we're really here to do a job, and I don't want to be here if I'm not really going to do it. Everybody's getting paid to be here. So it's like we literally can go there, sit there, do nothing, and get a cheque. And I was, like, I'm not... I don't want to do that. So, for me, it was completely different. I don't feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story or because there's something going on that may make people cry.... That shouldn't change our decision, because it's kind of unfair to the ones who really are great."
When it came to the feud-with-Mariah thing, Minaj offered more of a prepared statement than a tension-relieving response.
"I say nice things about Mariah all the time, and I even tell her all the time how much of a fan I am of her," said Minaj." She's one of my favourite artists of all times, and I think she's really shaped a generation of singers, and to be on a panel with her, it's kind of crazy because all these singers that come in, they aspire to be a Mariah Carey in terms of their talent, and in terms of their career length, and so I feel excited to see them see someone who they look up to so much and to be given a chance to sing in front of her and hear her critique."
Your thoughts, Mariah?
"That was, obviously, a very sweet thing to say."
See? There's nothing even remotely pitchy about that, Dawg.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald
Hosted by Ryan Seacrest; featuring Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Keith Urban and Nicki Minaj
Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Fox and CTV