Fox's singing competition returns Jan. 16 with a new panel of judges designed to shore up the show's eroding (but still massive) ratings.
Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and veteran Randy Jackson talked to TV critics Tuesday morning about what's in store for the show's 12th season. (More singers than usual got the golden ticket to Hollywood, for one. A total of 276 go to Hollywood -- and roughly 50 of them came from the Chicago auditions.)
Much has been written about the Mariah/Nicki feud, and the panel was asked about whether it's trumped up for ratings or authentic. (As if they'd admit it's fake...)
Mariah: "This is a very passionate panel. I think there are a lot of strong personalities. The fighting is what it is. This is American Idol. It's bigger than some trumped up stupid thing."
Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment for Fox, said "This panel has reinvigorated the show." He acknowledged there are too many singing shows on air and they're cannibalizing each other, but this is still the king of them all.
Producer Nigel Lythgoe admitted the show has had a "real spate of White Guy With Guitar" winners, but Jackson said this season is "the girls' to lose."
Mariah said she had a hard time learning how to say "no" to hopefuls. She said she would duck her head when doling out rejection.
"As a kid you get turned down a lot," she said, referring to her start in the music industry. "It's tough to get that rejection."
Nicki Minaj said she had no problem sending hopefuls on their way if they didn't have the chops.
"I don't feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story," Minaj said.