'American Idol' at TCA: 5 Things We Learned About Season 12

The Hollywood Reporter
'American Idol' Recap: Nicki Minaj Possessed by Soul of Simon Cowell
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'American Idol' Recap: Nicki Minaj Possessed by Soul of Simon Cowell

Year after year, Idol Worshippers the world over hope for a twist, a turn or something new to add to a decade-plus formula. Well, it looks like we got it this year thanks to the judges' panel's two new additions, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey, who are certain to keep viewers, contestants and producers on their toes. 

Journalists attending Tuesday's Television Critics Association confab in Pasadena got their first taste of the season to come, and it had plenty of bite. 

Here, five things we learned about Idol in the year 2013...

1. Fox is putting all its eggs in the diva basket: Despite an effort to downplay the drama of November's leaked cell phone video, network brass are convinced that the new panel will "invigorate the show." So said Fox president of alternative programming Mike Darnell in a passionate defense of why Idol remains "the king of shows." Said Darnell: Yes, there are too many of these shows on the air and they're all taking each other down a little bit. But this is ... the only one that makes stars and people keep coming back to it for that reason." Fights aside, he continued, "There is passion in this group. They disagree on the talent and how to approach the talent. It's not just the girls, it's everybody."

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2. Tie-breakers are tricky: Despite the producers' best efforts to balance the judges' opinions, veto and golden ticket power seem to be an issue. As executive producer Nigel Lythgoe explained, in every audition city, when the vote was split two and two, they would alternate which of the judges "would carry the vote across." Be the experiment turned out to be incredibly predictable. "It didn't work because whichever way that particular judge voted, they continued to vote that way [and] not send them through, so two people were always pretty angry about that."

3. Nicki Minaj has no problem saying no: "Idol was a show that I had watched since the first season," said the rapper and hitmaker. "When I see them say yes to someone who didn't need to be there, it makes me want to jump at the TV. It hurts my soul. ... I didn't really have a problem saying no because we're looking for the best of the best. I remember watching from home, I didn't like when [judges] would be overtly passive -- we're here to do a job. I don't put someone through because of a great story or because there's something going on that may make people cry." Carey, on the other hand, seemed to struggle with rejection. "I had a tough time with [saying 'no'] because as a kid, you get turned down a lot," she said. "It's tough to get that rejection. We've all felt it."

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4. Nothing breaks the ice like a sex tape joke: Despite TCA members' repeated attempts to assess what exactly happened during the North Carolina flight, Carey and Minaj weren't giving much insight. As for how they ultimately reconciled? Minaj joked that she had the group "watch my sex tape," while host Ryan Seacrest added, "Fondue -- we all shared forks." Ultimately, it looked as if the girls still had some issues to iron out. Witness this exchange about the feud: 

Minaj: "We're professionals."

Carey: "It was sort of one-sided."

Minaj: "No, it wasn't."

Carey: "At least we can agree on my shoes."

5. WGWGs? Check. Lythgoe readily acknowledges, "We had a real spate of 'white guys with guitars.'" To tackle the problem, the show will be dividing potential finalists by gender, putting through an equal number of guys and gals until they reach the Top 10. Also new: a "nominate a loved one" option, which Randy Jackson helms during auditions, giving several lucky auditioners a jump to the front of the line. But ultimately, it's about giving the contestants time to develop and finds their own voice. Said Jackson: "Last season, Jessica Sanchez didn't really blossom until the Vegas round." This year, 276 were put through to Hollywood Week, but while plenty got close, only a select few will make it to the live show. To that, says Carey, "If you see they're that close, you feel for them. Minaj's take: "It's just life -- it's reality."

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

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