Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey: Has ‘American Idol’ ever been about contestants?

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Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey: Has ‘American Idol’ ever been about contestants?

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Nicki Minaj on tour in 2011.

From the days of bickering on "American Idol" between former judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, or Cowell and host Ryan Seacrest, one thing has been patently obvious: the real ratings grabber is the judging panel. Imparting flowery feedback and sniffing out talent might be the judges' function, but their purpose is to keep audiences tuning in after almost a decade of contestants who often return to obscurity after their 15 minutes expires.

Then again, the judges' talent sniffing skills are dubious, at best, considering Cowell told Jennifer Hudson in Season 3 she would never make it in the music business. Shortly after Hudson was voted off of "Idol," she stole Beyonce's thunder in "Dreamgirls" and went on to snag an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and various other accolades that helped her build an enviable career in music and movies.

Celebrity fix

While a bit of "Idol's" spotlight is shared with contestants, the real draw is what the judges will do and who will sign on (with a multi-million dollar contract in tow) as the next celebrity judge. When the Season 8 Paula and Kara DioGuardi resentments couldn't keep audiences enthralled anymore, the arrival of Ellen DeGeneres was announced for Season 9, and Abdul made her exit. DeGeneres didn't quite live up to the hype and made a hasty retreat after one season.

Cowell then defected to "The X Factor" and aboard the "Idol" ship came rhyming aficionado Steven "ya ka ka ka kow" Tyler and Jennifer "laugh before every comment I make" Lopez. Each replaced Cowell's king of mean routine with their individual brand of zaniness.

Not to be outdone, Cowell enlisted the help of tabloid darlings Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to revive the ailing show he imported from the U.K. Both ladies have experienced trying personal problems, and the public is now clamoring to witness any impending tumult that might somehow work its way onto the show.

Replacement stars

The not-so-surprising "Idol" exits of Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, and the much hinted at but now confirmed departure of Randy Jackson again created controversy about who will be the next high-profile judges to grace the show for Season 12.

The celebrity floodgates opened and emerging from the sea of overpaid, opinionated personalities were Nicki Minaj and her divisive Pepsi contract (which clashed with "Idol's" Coke sponsorship) and diva extraordinaire Mariah Carey (whose former Jenny Craig contract probably only clashed with her voluptuous assets). Scores of loyal fans for each of these prominent entertainers are destined to tune in, sealing "Idol's" supremacy in the reality, talent show circuit. Meanwhile, the next American Idol waits in the wings.

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