‘American Idol’ Season 12: What To Expect

As American Idol is about to get underway (on Wednesday, January 16), it’s time to survey what we know so far about the 12th season. And let’s just get to the big incident: Who can forget the “leaked” footage of the Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey’s October on-set throwdown? Not Mariah Carey, that’s for sure. Last week, she said the months-old incident created an “unsafe work environment” in an interview with Barbara Walters. Later that week, she referred to the spat as “sort of one-sided” during a panel with all of the Idol judges during the Winter TCA’s (to which Nicki retorted, “No, it wasn’t.”).

Even the ladies’ judging styles are polar opposite. No surprises here, but if you’re looking for a gentle judge, Minaj is not your woman. “I didn’t really have a problem saying no because we’re looking for the best of the best,” she says. Mariah Carey, on the other hand, doesn’t like dishing out the rejection: “I had a tough time saying no because as a kid, you got turned down a lot. It’s tough to get that rejection.”

Despite the company line that the two are getting along just fine these days, it doesn’t look like the Idol divas are going to make nice for the cameras. Mariah will continue to take a holier-than-thou stance, and Nicki will keep up the in-your-face attitude we know and love her for. We feel for you, Keith Urban, and your unfortunate choice to sit in the middle of World War III.

Even-Keeled Keith
Speaking of Keith Urban, the former Australian Idol judge has already jokingly declared himself “the UN” in the Carey/Minaj Battle Royale (Creator Nigel Lythgoe described his position — perhaps more accurately — as “the scratching post.”) Diplomacy doesn’t always make for interesting television (or constructive judging), so we’re hoping he finds a role other than peacekeeper early on. Sources hint that Urban has had words with all of the judges during the season, including a heated argument with Miss Minaj. So there’s hope!

And Randy’s Still There
As he embarks on his 12th year, we really have to give it to Randy Jackson: you’ve made it, Dawg. Through Simon, Paula, Kara, Ellen, J.Lo and even the ill-fated/still-suing Steven, you’ve somehow hung on to your role as the least controversial judge in television history. Careful, though: while Nicki and Mariah have had more scandal before their first episode than you have had in 11 seasons, we’ve got our eyes on Mr. Nicole Kidman in the race to out-mild-manner you.

Lots of self promotion…in the best way possible:
Mariah Carey is set to release her 14th studio album in March, coincidentally when Idol really heats up with the Top 10 performances and live voting. Expect a live performance of music from her new album on the show somewhere along the way (perhaps during Idol Gives Back, if it returns). No complaints about that opportunistic cross-promotion here!

The Rules, They Are A-Changin’
Nigel Lythgoe has promised “major changes” in response to the sharp ratings drop last season. To start, Idol will introduce a bus tour of flyover states that allows those not close to major cities a chance to audition. Secondly, the guys and gals will be separated during the Hollywood week, and there will be an equal representation of each gender right up to the Top 10 (which will consist of 5 guys and five girls). Speaking of the Top 10, it’s a hard Top 10. No wild card Top 12 for this season of Idol. Perhaps the biggest-slash-most-awkward change is that singers too shy to audition for Idol have nowhere to hide. Families and friends nominated these talented-but-shy hopefuls for a private audition with Randy, who then surprised them with a hidden camera (because if there’s anything that will bring a timid singer out of his or her shell, it’s being put on the spot on national television by Randy Jackson).

Oh, Right…The Contestants
Call it The Phillip Phillips Effect, but we’ve heard there’s a deep pool of dudes with guitars this year. Though it remains to be seen if they have changed their last names to match their first names. On top of that, it’s another year of strong female vocal talent. With the Season 11 winner still soaring with the success of his debut single and album, all of this year’s contestants are entering the show cautiously optimistic about Idol’s ability to once again serve as a career launchpad.

What you won’t see? Rappers. Even the rap rep on the panel sees no room for serious rappers on Idol. “I definitely don’t think a rapper should be in this competition. Rap and hip hop is completely different from American Idol,” Minaj has stated.

American Idol premieres on Fox January 16th. Are you going to tune in? Let us know below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter!