'American Idol' returns with pricey judges, big ratings hopes

'American Idol' returns with pricey judges, big ratings hopes
CTV
by: Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES -- "American Idol" is facing a $36 million-plus question: Will that combined paycheque lavished on superstar judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban pay off in ratings?
   
The newcomers have their work cut out for them whether they earn it with colorful feuding -- ladies, you know who we're talking about -- or by discovering a singer who can charm America.

   
The talent show, a TV groundbreaker when it debuted in 2002 despite a starless panel with Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul, needs every edge as its audience erodes and other contests emerge as challengers.

"I think it's actually a renewal (of 'Idol') every couple of years, and what you're seeing now is this panel has reinvigorated the show," said Mike Darnell, Fox president of alternative entertainment.
   
An open-wallet approach worked for "Idol" before, with Jennifer Lopez validating her $12 million paycheque by helping (with Steven Tyler) to boost the show's ratings in 2011. That allowed Ellen DeGeneres' short-lived and genially unimpressive judging stint that ended in 2010 to fade into memory.
   
The result: Carey is raking in close to $18 million, Minaj is getting $12 million and Urban's take is a reported $6 million for the season.
   
Add in mainstay Jackson's share (in the reported single-digit millions) and that's a platinum-plated group. But it's potentially money well spent for a show that, en route to living up to its title of finding new pop stars, has to keep viewers firmly engaged.
   
Finding a breakout star like Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Hudson is one way to do it, but the odds are long. So it's up to the professionals to step in.
   
Carey and Minaj already are demonstrating their potential. Their feud, whether real or fabricated, has produced such head-shaking, headline-making moments as Carey alleging that Minaj threatened to shoot her after a taping. The rapper responded with dismissive tweets.
   
At a news conference, Minaj tried to downplay the squabble.
   
"We're professionals. Have you ever had an argument with someone you've worked with?" she said after repeated questions about her working relationship with Carey.
   
"This was sort of one-sided," interjected Carey.
   
"No, it wasn't," snapped back Minaj.
   
Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said the judges won't disappoint, including Urban, whom he calls a sweetheart who "sticks up for himself." The singer is expected to reinforce the show's country fan base that has boosted the fortunes of contestants including Southern crooner Scotty McCreey.
   
Jackson is proving tougher on contestants than in the past, Lythgoe said.
   
Then there are the divas.
   
"Nicki can get into it with anybody. She's one of the best judges ever. ... She finds an angle and drives it home," Lythgoe said. As for Carey, she's a "true legand" who is the first "to put her arms out if someone's not going through or she's happy with someone."
   
In an interview, Minaj described giving the show her all.
   
"I didn't expect to cry on 'American Idol.' I always said, 'Why do they (judges) cry on those shows? That's so stupid. Get a life.' But now I take that back," Minaj said. "When you're looking into someone's eyes and they gave their all and you know their journey ends here, it's a tough pill to swallow.
   
"Then you have to join the machine again and keep on judging," she added.
   
Fox executive Darnell expressed optimism that "Idol," an especially critical part of the network's schedule after a rough start to the season for Fox, remains TV royalty.
   
He conceded the talent show marketplace is overcrowded and "they're all taking each other down a little bit," each losing up to 20 per cent in viewers.
   
But "American Idol" remains "the king of the shows. This is the one and the only one that makes stars, period," Darnell said. "And I think people will keep coming back to it for that reason."

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