Charlotte, North Carolina, may be nicknamed the Queen City, but is it big enough for two queen bees? That was the dilemma on Wednesday night's "American Idol," when the show's new team of judges headed down south for a round of auditions that featured more screaming than singing. And no, we're not talking about the contestants.
Welcome to the Charlotte auditions, the site of the infamous catfight between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj that spawned a chain of diva drama and overshadowed the talent the judges found there. But lest you think Keith Urban and Randy Jackson were innocent bystanders, the aired version of the fight told a very different story.
When the Charlotte fireworks were caught on tape and leaked to TMZ last fall, producers scrambled to do damage control. Which may be why they only chose the sanitized version of the fight on TV last night, playing up Randy Jackson's involvement and minimizing the drama between the two female judges.
The spat started after contestant Summer Cunningham performed the Bill Withers song "Lean On Me." When Keith Urban asked Cunningham where she saw herself as a singer, she replied, "I did the country thing. I'm more of a soulful country, maybe."
Way to annoy a country singer, eh? Urban's reply: "Right. I always get thrown when people say, 'I did the country thing.' It's like saying, 'I did the brain surgeon thing.' Either you're a brain surgeon or you're not."
It was then that Jackson gave his two cents -- or 30 years experience -- and informed Summer that her voice "naturally lends itself to country," pointing out the yodel in her voice.
Mariah Carey then asked Cunningham if she was passionate about county music, when she first started listening to it, etc., and by the time it was Nicki's turn to speak, she had had enough.
"Thank you, because for a minute, I thought it was like a country music debate," she said, "I mean, why are we like picking her apart because of a country comment? You guys [Randy and Mariah] make comments about everybody in popular music, all day, non-stop."
"Just trying to help you a little bit -- 30 years -- a little help, a little insight," Randy said, to which an angered Nicki replied, "Oh you're right, I'm sorry, I can't help. Maybe I should just get off this [expletive] panel." And then she stormed off the set and production shut down.
It's not exactly a surprise that producers chose to air a CliffsNotes version of the fight, but what is a surprise is how much more Jackson was involved in the fireworks than we were previously led to believe. And it was Urban's irritation over the contestant's flippant "I did the county thing" comment that actually started the thing!
Judges' drama aside, the Charlotte auditions did turn out some talent. (Because that's what this show is about, right?)
The Rascall Flatts-singing Jimmy Smith was called "mad fly" by Minaj. Isabel Gonzalez -- who was nominated to audition by her aunt and personally invited by Jackson when he showed up at her school -- impressed the panel with her throwback voice. And just when we thought it was time for another comedy act, Ashley Smith (nicknamed Blondie by Minaj) shocked the judges with her rendition of "Cowboy Casanova"; Carey called her "effervescent."
There was the return of Candice Glover, who made it all the way to the Vegas round on last season's "Idol." Nicki Minaj told her, "I'm obsessed with you. I want to skin you and wear you."
And finally, Brandy Hamilton also got a golden ticket following an impressive Etta James cover, giving the judges' a final plea as she walked out: "Please don't fight, it makes me sad."
From the mouths of babes.
Meanwhile, fast forward to the present. Earlier this week, long-time "Idol" judge Randy Jackson told Access Hollywood Live that the secret to the show's success is the focus on the raw, new talent, and not on the judges, like some of those other talent competition shows.
"When we started 'Idol,' nobody knew who we [the judges] were," he explained. "We were not famous names! So we could be brutally, totally honest with people without worrying about whatever preceded us in our careers, [or] how people viewed us before."
Hmm… so how to explain the addition of big name judges like Carey, Minaj, and Urban?
"American Idol" Season 12 airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 PM ET on FOX.
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