“Is Nicki Minaj a star-maker?” the Associated Press wondered Monday afternoon when it joined the multitudes reporting that the hip-hop artist best known “for her colorful hairstyles, wardrobe and antics” — the AP’s music reporter did not list “singing” as being among those things for which she best known — would join the show.
But, of course, serious students of television know that the search for new judges on “Idol” has virtually nothing to do with the candidates’ ability to find star singers and everything to do with their ability to make noise and bag big ratings.
“Idol” finished the 2011-12 TV season as the country’s most popular non-football program — no small feat for a reality series in its 11th season. But it fell noticeably in the ratings last season — the first in which NBC’s “The Voice” and Fox’s own “X Factor” were added to the in-season prime-time mix — and it wound up with its smallest season-finale audience ever.
Of course, it was also the worst “American Idol” finale ever. Past season non-winner Ace Young got down on one knee and proposed to past season non-winner Diana DeGarmo on that finale, while millions of viewers wondered who they were. We rest our case.
After that finale, Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly and Chase Carey, chief operating officer of Fox parent NewsCorp, said changes were in store for the show, which means new judges. The Reporters Who Cover Television, having grown weary trying to cull fact from fiction when covering competition series judge-casting, have since planted their flag in every name out there. Minaj’s name has been on the list — but then, so were Charlie Sheen and Jerry Lewis.
Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, who had each been with the show only two seasons, announced they were leaving. And conventional wisdom has The Only Surviving Original Judge, Randy Jackson, moving into a “mentoring” role — whatever that means for him and for the show’s Mentor in Residence, Jimmy Iovine. And late last month, Carey confirmed she’d joined the show as a judge.
To make noise and bag bigger ratings in its 12th season, “Idol” will have to out-shout “X Factor,” which hired Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to replace Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger as judges after the show’s first season fizzled in the ratings.
In which case, Minaj is made to order. Last February, Minaj nearly stole the Grammy show from Whitney Houston, less than 24 hours after Houston’s death, when she performed an erotic, made-for-TV exorcism to the strains of her single, “Roman Holiday.”
After Houston died while preparing to attend a Grammy pre-party, the trophy show got re-made and riddled with Houston tributes and “moments.” But the next morning, all the talk was of Minaj, who walked the red carpet accompanied by a man dressed to resemble the pope. Minaj performed her single on stage from a torture rack, while dressed in a long, weedy gown and cheap peroxide-blond wig, as guys dressed to look like monks sang “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Another guy dressed as an altar boy knelt in prayer between the legs of a female dancer, and a guy dressed as a bishop presided over the festivities. Minaj broke free of her bonds just in time for her big finish: a levitation.
No word Monday on whether the Minaj news has scared off Nick Jonas. Late last month, he tweeted that he is being considered as a new “Idol” judge, adding: “It would be a dream come true if it happens.”