Let's face it: When it comes to the oversaturated reality TV singing-competition market, "American Idol" still reigns. It's the only show that has consistently produced hit makers, leaving competition like "The Voice" and "The X Factor" in the dust. (Don't believe it? Name a hit single by Melanie Amaro or Javier Colon, while we add up the platinum album sales for Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.)
But with Season 12 of the FOX singing competition set to debut amid yet another changed judges' lineup (Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban will be joining Randy Jackson this season), could "Idol" be at risk of shifting the focus of the show to (gasp!) the judges at the expense of the contestants?
Surely that was "The X Factor's" mistake. Season 1 featured a Simon Cowell-Paula Abdul reunion, which had nostalgic "Idol" fans checking in to see if their favorite bickering duo still had "it" (they didn't), but Season 2 was even worse. Cowell sold his soul for a diva, spending millions to sign on Britney Spears, who ended up contributing very little to the show (although her eye rolling and cartoonish faces made for a great gag reel).
Both "The Voice" and "The X Factor" have a judges' competition factor, something "Idol" has smartly stayed away from. The big name "Voice" judges fight over which contestants they want to mentor (brilliant twist, letting the contestants pick who they want to work with), while "The X Factor" judges relish in slamming one another over the opposing "team's" song picks, style makeovers, etc.
"American Idol" has always been about the judges working together as a unit to find the best talent. There's no throwing one another under the bus or complaining about getting stuck with the over-25 group (sorry, L.A. Reid). Unfortunately, it's hard to picture "Idol's" latest batch of judges as a solid mentoring unit.
Early buzz about on-the-set fighting between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj has died down, but it was ugly while it lasted, and the live shows haven't started yet. Speaking of Mariah and Nicki, why the push to get two big name divas on the panel? And speaking of the panel, don't "Idol" execs remember that a panel of four makes things very bloated -- at least on this chatty show?
"Idol" Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken has already slammed the show's new high-profile judges lineup, telling The Hollywood Gossip, "When I was on, Ruben [Studdard] and myself and Kimberley Locke were the stars of the show. Now 'Idol' is about the judges. I don't even know if they remember there are contestants anymore."
Meanwhile, newbie judge Nicki Minaj recently told The Hollywood Reporter she fears that being on the twice-weekly show may make her "too famous."
Too famous? Wait, didn't anyone tell her it's not all about her?
"American Idol" Season 12 premieres on Jan. 16 at 8 PM ET on FOX.