‘American Idol,” for the first time, decided to do a pre screening of the show a week before its debut and brought out the judges for a satellite Q&A session with Ryan Seacrest out of Los Angeles.
They held screenings in several major ciites, including Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Atlanta, where we landed at Sugarloaf Mills AMC with a few hundred “Idol’ acolytes, plus two former ‘Idol” contestants who live locally: season 2’s Vanessa Olivarez and season 4’s Bo Bice. Oliveraz is currently in two bands: Granville Automatic and country quartet Mama’s Blue Dress. Bice is leaving in two weeks from Conyers to spend a possible year-long stint in the starring role on Broadway for “Pump Boys & Dinettes.”
We saw a 45-minute cut-down version of what will be the debut next week in New York (two hours on Wednesday) and Chicago Thursday. I sat in the third row. It was a little daunting to see Nicki Minaj’s mug hovering over me like an alien creature.
Here are a few impressions from the screening:
- Nicki is as colorful and polarizing as you can imagine. She is – not surprisingly – opinionated as all get out. She sucks the oxygen out of the room, which doesn’t seem to perturb Randy Jackson but exasperates both Keith Urban and Mariah Carey. She dresses wild. She makes funny sounds. She interrupts others. She’ll put on a faux British accent. This could be fun for awhile but could ultimately be exhausting.
- Nicki will flirt with guy contestants, even getting one to take off his shirt. But she can be empathetic and sweet as well. And boy, she does make faces. When a Mariah fan shows Mariah photos of the two of them, Mariah asks to get copies. Watch Nicki’s eyes bug out.
- The producers seem to purposely keep a man between Mariah and Nicki, at least in the Chicago and New York auditions we viewed. When Keith had to leave for a prior event, they stuck Randy between them. There is a segment where Mariah and Nicki frequently argue to the point that Keith says, “I feel like a scratching post!” Meow!
- Watch for the contestant who has a stuttering problem but a great voice that elicited applause from our audience. Also, there’s a woman who can not only sing country but rap “Super Bass.” Plus, there’s a dude who evokes a bit of William Hung, which is not a good thing at all. We see eight singers. In general, it’s the usual blend of bad and good.
- Keith is calm, collected and nice, with brief but incisive comments. Mariah has a bit of Paula in her and doesn’t appear to be too harsh on the contestants. Nigel Lythgoe earlier had said he feels Randy is the toughest judge up there. I guess it’s all relative.
- During that earlier press conference, Nigel noted that he was upset when he saw “The X Factor” provide how well each act did in the voting in relation to each other. He claimed that he wanted to do that but was told no by Fox executives, afraid it might suppress voting. He doesn’t believe that. He also plans to bring voting order to ‘Idol” this season but is bummed that he is playing catch-up to “X Factor.” He also would like to show regional voting stats if possible. Nigel in the press conference praised Phillip Phillips but warned that one single does not make a career. He said there will be no hip-hop/rap on “Idol” and Jimmy Iovine will return as the main mentor.
- Bo Bice found Nicki a bit much, compared Mariah to Paula and really liked Keith.
- There was a Q&A after the screening. I don’t think we got too much out of it but Ryan did ask if there’d be a group performance number with all the judges, something “The Voice” does every season. Then he decided they shouldn’t answer that. It could be fun! Mariah had a cold, as she noted multiple times, and wore these ridiculously huge diamond earings that were so heavy, her ear lobes were hanging low. Randy had strange studs on his collar while Nicki wore what appeared to be the outside of the Partridge Family bus.
- There were a lot of Nicki Minaj fans at the screening and screamed when her name came up. She got a ton of laughs, too.