‘American Idol’ Season 12 premiere recap: Nicki Minaj lives up to the hype

The talent in New York takes a backseat to the new team of judges

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Welcome to the 12th season of "American Idol," where the judges are new and the talent is few and far between. At least that's how the premiere episode played out as the freshman judges' panel of Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, and old-schooler Randy Jackson stole the limelight while doling out a paltry number of golden tickets to Hollywood.

Yes, as predicted, the judges were the stars of the premiere episode, with Mariah kicking things off by dissing Nicki's furry drum major hat. The diva dynamics were played up -- a nit pick here, a nit pick there -- with the first contestant of the season coming in singing as the girls were arguing. If this keeps up, it's going to be a long season. (Were the "zing, pow" graphics really needed? Unfortunately, yes.)

Still, if you were looking for diva drama, Nicki lived up to the hype, even telling one high-pitched "Phantom of the Opera" singer: "Your range is better than Mariah's!" (Oh no, she di'int!)

In fact, we learned a lot about Nicki in the premiere episode: She used to want to be a city bus driver. She rolls her eyes and raises her brow a lot. She can spontaneously switch to her British alter ego. And she can console a tone deaf 15-year-old Asian Justin Bieber-wannabe like none other, telling him he's a superstar in life, if not on the stage.

And, if you want to really impress Ms. Minaj, just segue from a blueberry-picking country singer into a hip-hop master of "Super Bass." Yes, do that, and you're in like Flynn.

Of course, the Lincoln Center auditions did turn out some talent, but the judges were surprisingly harsh! Predictably, the Camp Mariah singer went through (Ms. Carey received a lot of strokes this night), but a lot of worthy contenders were sent home with the instruction to come back next year. Or the year after.

Evan, a former dancer who lost his leg to cancer, showed up with guitar in hand and a decent singing voice. The judges chimed in for Evan's rendition of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," seemingly enjoying the ride, but alas, even he was sent home.

Frankie Ford fared better. The down-on-his-luck teen sings on the subway to earn a few bucks and vowed to work 110 percent if the judges put him through. Yes, Frankie goes to Hollywood.

There's the guy with the red plastic jacket and the really bad James Brown wig (he gets a big fat "no"), and the talented Jessica Kartalis, who was secretly nominated to audition by her mom; Randy Jackson went to a local gig and snatched Jessica off the stage to personally deliver her audition number, but even she didn't make the cut.

There's the preposterous (a clip of a guy breaking wind during his audition), and there's the turban-wearing contestant who promises Nicki he has a marigold-colored head wrap that matches her hair, and he'll wear it if she puts him through. (She does.)

All in all, very little talent was revealed in two hours of show, because so much time was spent showcasing the bloated judges' table. Forty-one contestants actually advanced to Hollywood, but we saw only a handful of the performances, with some of the best talent reduced to a brief montage clip.

Next up: The Chicago auditions, which look to amp up the diva dynamics even more. But based on the premiere episode, Nicki Minaj has already stolen the show and Mariah's her opening act.

"American Idol" Season 12 airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 PM ET on FOX.

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