Nickiâs Rocking âIdolâ...Who Knew?

Is Nicki shaping up to be Idol's most popular judge? 

When Nicki Minaj was formally announced as a new judge on American Idol alongside Mariah Carey, country singer Keith Urban, and O.G. of the panel, Randy Jackson, there were a bevy of boos and hisses at the decision. Much of it centered on the belief that a relative newcomer has no business offering advice on the music industry when she supposedly only has one foot inside it herself. Then came the other predictable criticism---she is too gimmicky, she is a rapper and it’s a competition for singers, blah, blah, and burp.

I found the sudden interest in purity for a glorified big-budget talent show to be hysterical. What I felt then about Minaj joining the show has only been validated since the new season has started: If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to be a multi-faceted star in today’s music industry, it’s certainly Nicki Minaj. For all the bashing she receives for her genre-hopping and over-the-top imagery, she single-handedly revived a dying subgenre and managed to become a global brand in a relatively small fraction of the time.

She’s notoriously been known to be at the helm of much of her boundary-pushing moves, so why not get the perspective of a contemporary star when the last few years of American Idol have found the show struggling to produce any?

Mariah Carey might have offered the star power and legitimacy the show was seeking, but it’s been Nicki Minaj who’s been delivering the goods in terms of personality and thoughtful criticism. Thus far, Mariah’s contribution is shade.

Yes, I love Mariah and her numerous ways of showing disapproval without uttering a single syllable, yet you’d think the other premiere voice of a generation would have more to offer in terms of vocal criticism than quips like "pow...pippity pow." 

And while last week’s narrative of the show was tied mostly around Nicki Minaj sashaying off the stage in a huff, what preceded the act only validates the value Nicki has added to the show.

When 20-year-old Summer Cunningham offered her rendition of “Lean On Me,” she was instantly pressured by Mariah and Randy Jackson to declare her allegiance to country music. Bored by their push, Nicki finally said: “For a minute I thought it was, like, a country music debate. Why are we like picking her apart because of a country comment? It’s like you’re scaring her into lying. You’re forcing her to claim something.”

If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to be a multi-faceted star in today’s music industry, it’s certainly Nicki Minaj.

In response, Mariah sniped, “No, we’re trying to help her, instead of talking about her outfit.”

The other three judges co-signed Mimi, resulting in Nicki announcing, "Oh, you're right. I'm sorry. I can't help her. Maybe I should just get off the f**king panel." For all the flack Nicki got for being childish, Mariah saying in response "That was going to be my move the next time she ragged on me." was no better.

It seemed senseless to limit someone on their first audition – something Mimi of all people should’ve realized given she is the same person who for 20 years has reminded us repeatedly how much she loathed Tommy Mottola for boxing her in.

I can see why Mariah was heated about another woman – particularly this one – joining the panel. Nicki has been charismatic, energetic, thoughtful, and funny whereas Mariah as sometimes comes across as a wicked step-sister hoping the young diva trips over her glass slipper right off the judging table so she can get more words in (about herself).

All of this couldn’t have come at a better time for Nicki whose image was starting to sink after a number of antics, plus one too many nasty interviews in both print and radio. She’s since admitted to having a bit of an anger problem last year and lately has come across as personable and playful in interviews the way she used to.

I don’t know who pulled her to the side and informed her that she needed to get a prescription for some chill before the public begins a push to give her a boot, but I’d like to thank them. While Barbara Walters might’ve had America thinking Nicki was on the verge of pistol-whipping Mariah in a fury, viewers can see for themselves there’s much more to her than meets the eye – the same point she tried to get her co-judges to see about Summer.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick