Anyone who tunes into American Idol regularly knows that this season sometimes feels like The Nicki Minaj Show. Among the new blood that's been injected into the judges panel this season, Minaj is hands down the most polarizing. Keith Urban is the surprisingly astute critic, Mariah Carey is the softie who finds something positive to say about even the most dismal performances, and Nicki is ... well, Nicki. She's unprofessional (showing up late to a job that requires about five hours of her time every week), overdramatic (threatening to walk off the show after Curtis Finch, Jr. was eliminated last week), and often inappropriate in her comments to the singers (too many examples to pick just one).
She also may be the best thing that's happened to the contestants in years.
"She gives the best critiques," Finch told TVGuide.com after his elimination. "I'm a very direct person, and I think Nicki is the same. Maybe that's one reason why we connect in such a way, is because of her honesty and how truthful she is."
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Now, now — we know what you're thinking. How could someone who has such a blatant disregard for the dignity and decorum (snort) of American Idol be a positive influence for those vying for the No. 1 spot? Consider these points:
Nicki tells it like it is. Sure, she may occasionally start rambling about waffles and relies too much on different enunciations of the word "ladybug" to convey her level of approval, but for the most part, Nicki gives it to the contestants straight. She didn't sugarcoat the harsh critique that Lazaro Arbos needed to hear (we're sorry, but it's true!) after he butchered Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway" last week. She was the only judge who had the guts to tell diminutive hopeful Matheus Fernandes (remember him?) to quit with the "pity party" shtick and focus on his singing during Hollywood Week. And in the Vegas rounds, Minaj's advising Tina Torres that she needed to ditch her hairstyle in favor of one that didn't age her 20 years was a totally valid point that no one else on the panel even hinted at. Plus, she's not afraid to challenge her other panelists (namely Urban) when she disagrees with what they have to say. On a related note: While her reported feud with Carey seems to have died down, let's not forget Minaj's greatest moment so far — her dismissive "Randy, shut up" moment from the March 5 episode.
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She's unpredictable. It's not only Minaj's outfit and hair color that provide a surprise every week. Even aside from her tardiness and Elimination Night walkoff last week, Minaj's mouth alone is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you're going to get. No canned responses here! But if nothing else, she keeps the contestants (not to mention host Ryan Seacrest) on their toes — and keeps the feedback portions of the show interesting. Are her sexually charged comments toward Paul Jolley, Angie Miller and Kree Harrison juvenile? Sure. Irrelevant? Maybe. But they also force the contestants to be on their A game for more than just the three minutes they spend performing. And, especially in the case of Kree — whose response a couple of weeks ago that she was just aiming to keep her "wife" happy with her performance was, in a word, perfect — Minaj's head-scratching comments are a chance for them to let their personalities shine and likely win more votes in the process.
She wears her heart on her sleeve. Whether it's Paul Jolley "stimulating her sexual appetite," Charlie Askew resonating with her own brand of crazy, or Curtis Finch Jr. breaking her heart by landing in the bottom two on the season's first elimination night, many of the contestants hold a special place in Nicki's heart, and she doesn't hold back when it comes to showing her emotional investment in them. After Charlie's disastrous Genesis cover that preceded his elimination, Minaj said what everyone in the audience and watching from home was thinking, when she asked where quirky Charlie had gone and where this dark, tortured soul who replaced him came from. Imagine Steven Tyler or Jennifer Lopez (or even Randy Jackson, for that matter) getting up and walking away from the judges table in an act of protest to demonstrate their support for one of the contestants. It wouldn't happen. It's got to be reassuring for the hopefuls to know that someone's in their court.
So, what do you think? Is Minaj bringing American Idol down this season, or is she taking the show up a notch? Weigh in below! And check out our interview with Curtis Finch Jr.to find out what else he has to say about Minaj:
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7c on Fox.