It's not uncommon for American Idol viewers to witness nervous delivery, a lack of self-confidence and awkward pandering on the show. Unfortunately, this season, much of that has come from the judges' table — or more specifically, from Mariah Carey. Who would have thought that someone who's built an entire public persona around being a capital-D Diva would suddenly turn into a shrinking violet when faced with a group of young aspiring singers?
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Though she's arguably the most qualified judge on the panel, exceeding her colleagues in career longevity, raw vocal talent, chart success and international superstardom, Carey is also the most tentative when it comes to giving this year's contenders constructive criticism. The only thing more irritating than her tendency to bookend feedback with constant reminders that "You know I love you, dah-ling" is the sing-songy inflections she uses to couch even the softest criticism. And the consistent praising of Lazaro Arbos' "bravery" and "courage" should have been left back in the Vegas round. Note to Mimi: It's possible to give negative feedback while still being polite and diplomatic (see: Keith Urban).
We've been waiting all season for Mariah to break out of her shell, and with the competition down to five girls and one lost cause, it's time for her to pull out her mentor hat and wear it proudly. It's not like she doesn't have anything of value to say. Carey's comment that Angie Miller would have been better served by covering "I'll Be There" rather than "Shop Around" during Motown Week was particularly astute. R&B aficionados Amber Holcomb and Candice Glover could especially benefit from her advice on singing technique as well. (Not to mention, Carey was inexplicably the only judge who included Candice in her Top 3 last week.) What's going to benefit a contestant more at this point: telling them how great it is that they've made it this far in the competition, or nitpicking a little bit and giving them the pointers they need to go even further? When Randy Jackson is offering more thoughtful commentary from the judges' panel than you are, there's a problem.
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While many people find Simon Cowell's style of critiquing mean and ineffective, nobody likes a judge who's too soft either. Credibility-wise, Carey is head and shoulders above the "nice judges" of yesteryear (Paula Abdul, Kara DioGuardi, Jennifer Lopez), so she can't be afraid to speak up a little. As it stands, Carey seems much more concerned with whether the contestants (and audience members) like her than she does with being honest with the hopefuls. Trust us, Mariah, you don't need to worry. Most of the singers idolize you (and rightfully so), and the majority of viewers are too preoccupied with aiming their pitchforks at Nicki Minaj to throw negative energy your way.
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American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9/8c on Fox.