American Idol Premiere: The Real Competition Lies Between Mariah Carey And Nicki Minaj

by (@emilyexton)

Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj at American Idol Premiere

The “beef” between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj that’s been brewing promoted for months wasted no time getting started on Wednesday night’s premiere episode of American Idol. With auditions that began in New York City, both native New Yorkers (hailing from Huntington, Long Island and Jamaica, Queens, respectively) fiercely competed to prove who had more of a reason to sit behind the judges table, and who was more worthy of a network television paycheck.

For every time a contestant gushed about listening to Mariah through his or her childhood and dreaming of one day being able to replicate her five-0ctave range (with good reason), Nicki made sure to assure the next, completely hopeless hopeful that they, too are a star–they’re just not right for this competition. It was an outer battle to be the kindest and funniest judge, as well as the truest Big Apple resident. Queens and Long Island have had a turf war for years, so we guess this makes sense. While Nicki surprised me with her thoughtful and straightforward assessments, she did overuse pet names like “darling” and “sweetheart,” making things a little bit more about her when she could, while Mariah was cool with keeping a slight distance between her and the contestants.  Five Grammys have given her that right. But does it make her a Mean Girl?

Which brings us to the highlight of the evening: “I want to lose three pounds,” said Mariah, to no one in particular, during a momentary pause. It took even this Tina Fey-worshipping, Cady Heron-obsessed fan to realize what Mimi was doing, but Nicki was utterly lost (or so she pretended to be). “OK, who says, ‘I want to lose 3 pounds’? Which character?” Mariah asked with a sly stinkface that signified even a correct response could leave room for judgment. Nicki, clearly in need of a TBS marathon on a rainy Sunday afternoon, knew it wasn’t Lindsay Lohan (back in the conversation yet again!) but struggled to come up with the name of Rachel McAdams, laughing off what could be considered “bullying” from her colleague. But she didn’t forget. Later, in front of a contestant who admitted to struggling with her weight in high school, Nicki introduced Mariah as the “Regina George” of the Idol panel. It was Wednesday, and she was wearing pink…

It’s obvious that these two women aren’t exactly fond of each other, but it’s hard to say how much of their professionalism is just lost at the hand of maniacal editors searching for buzzworthy moments to clip the morning after. Much of their tense banter came in between auditions–”I was gonna bring my dog. We can have accessories? I didn’t know that was allowed,” Mariah said upon meeting Nicki’s drum major helmet. Yes, a drum major helmet. Allow that to sink in–yet was carefully pieced together to make it seem like time can’t pass unless these two are at odds. Still, they were a welcome relief from past non-judges like Steven Tyler, and did make considerable effort to be fair and honest with each hopeful, even if it left them looking a tad bit insensitive. Do you really see a future DJ in the wannabe Bieber who can’t sing, Mariah? Eh, we’ll let it slide since your “Shalom” and “Shanah tova” came with good intentions.

Hopefully the Mariah vs. Nicki battle won’t overshadow the contestants and the show’s mission entirely, and hopefully we still get some sort of impromptu diva-off down the road. From night one alone we’ve already identified a few promising vocalists, as well as experienced the interesting perspective of the surprisingly chatty Keith Urban. Here are a few more moments that have us pleasantly excited for yet another stroll down this crazy road, or at the very least, another episode:

1. Justin Bieber Wannabes

Congratulations, Bieb. You’ve started a revolution. Justin Bieber owes the majority of his growing empire to YouTube, and his success in DIY recording has led plenty of aspiring stars to hope to emulate his fame. It’s truly great, though, when contestants aim to recreate his floppy swoop and lady-killing ways, as was seen with 15-year-old James Bae. The quiet singer and character (“Like a superhero?”) couldn’t hit a note but his true motivation revealed itself when Nicki paid the reject a sweet goodbye. “In the end Nicki Minaj kissed me!” he told cameras. Well done.

2. Keith Urban

After some hesitation I’ve come to realize that Blake Shelton is sort of The Best on The Voice (and probably television in general), but maybe it’s a country artist thing? Based on how much hype surrounded the Mariah and Nicki combo, and how little they allowed Urban to say in various promos, I was skeptical of just what he could be bringing to the table. Randy needs a partner in blank staring and overusing catchphrases, and who knows what the kids in Aussie land are saying these days. But, I was pleasantly surprised by Urban’s performance during night one. He’s not just a buffer! Turns out, he was sweet, smart and, sigh, dreamy. I finally understand you, Nicole.

3. Mariah’s Eclectic Tastes

Quoting Mean Girls? Mouthing the words to Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive”?

Allowing people to call you a “cowboy” in public? I’ve loved her forever–and always will–but this gives me entirely new reasons.

4. Randy Jackson on the Staten Island Ferry

He’s no Melanie Griffith, but this made-for-TV moment is something that will haunt unsuspecting viewers. The veteran judge took a regal stance while staring out over the water before a strange land, as if he is reality television’s version of Columbus about to discover the New World. Plus, who doesn’t love a free ride on a boat?

[Photo: Getty Images]