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'American Idol' Recap: Where in the World Is Nicki Minaj?

The Idol judge is "stuck in traffic" as the top 10 take on the songs of Idols past.

American Idol season 12 top 10 P
Michael Becker / Fox
Season 12's top 10 finalists

With the top five women and top five men vocalists finally decided, Wednesday night’s American Idol began the competition proper. But when the house lights came on, judge Nicki Minaj was MIA.

"We are coming to you live and on time," host Ryan Seacrest said before telling the cheering audience to “keep that energy going for three of your four judges who are here tonight." 

Seacrest explained that Minaj was “stuck in traffic” on the 405 and proceeded to keep the show moving along until she finally arrived, completely missing Curtis Finch Jr.’s hideous attire.  

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Season 12: Top 10 Finalist Red Carpet Interviews

Also missing: Keith Urban’s tattoo, as the judge for the first time in weeks didn’t wear a shirt that could playfully show off his chest with the top button so carefully unfastened. That fashion faux pas should never happen again!

For a brief moment, Idol viewers got to see what the show would look like sans Minaj, and we just want to say: "Nicki, never be late again, little ladybug!" When she returned with her hoodie and sunglasses, she took her spot behind the table without missing a step, just in time to tell Janelle Arthur her song choice wasn’t up to par. She then regaled us later on in the show with classic Minaj-isms as she ogled Angie Miller’s legs, declared she was sexually stimulated by Paul Jolley (really??), demanded that “I Who Have Nothing” should be forever banned from the show after Candice Glover brought down the house with it, and described in full detail how to prepare the perfect waffles after Kree Harrison’s performance of “Cryin’” by Roy Orbison.

As the show got underway, the top 10 were assigned the task of singing songs immortalized by previous Idol winners, as any song was, as Seacrest said, “fair game.” By our tally, Scotty McCreery, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson were the Idol winners of choice, with Jordin Sparks, Fantasia Barrino and Ruben Studdard fairly represented.

However, we couldn’t help but wonder: Why didn’t anyone pick something from David Cook’s plethora of season seven performances? Nobody wanted to take on Taylor Hicks or Kris Allen? What a shame.

Here is what the top 10 picked:

Curtis Finch Jr. (“I Believe,” by Fantasia): It’s hard to erase the memory of Fantasia’s performance of this song, and Finch’s version didn’t come close. It’s not his fault: The season three champion flat-out owns this song, and Interscope Records head Jimmy Iovine warned him that it was dangerous to go “retro” with his sound. Finch tried to make it his own by singing it in a lower key and adding the church-y gospel runs, but I couldn’t avert my eyes from his jacket, which resembled the pattern of my mom’s old couch -- which, incidentally, is making a fashion comeback this season as Adele chose a similar pattern at the Grammy Awards. Urban believes that “adrenaline” does Finch in, while Randy Jackson complements Finch’s “fly” jacket (um, no), and Mariah Carey praises his “gospel” choices. This is how it goes when Minaj is missing. I hope it never happens again.

Janelle Arthur (“Gone” by Montgomery Gentry, performed on the show by McCreery): Arthur got a big lift from the stylists with a cute skirt and great makeup. She told Iovine that she wanted to stick with her country roots and therefore was going with a McCreery selection. She embraces the song's tough edginess, despite having “cotton” in her mouth. Whatever, Urban enjoyed it. “I’ve never heard a female sing that song before.” “The song you sang last week suited your voice better. ... I want to hear you sing songs that show the pretty part of your voice,” said Minaj. "I'm not a thousand percent about your song choice, so I just wish you would work on that." “The song didn’t lead anywhere,” said Jackson. “Your aura was giving us a star vibe,” said Carey.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Season 12: The Top 10 Finalists

Devin Velez (“Temporary Home” by Underwood): Velez was determined to stay in his “sweet spot’ with a ballad, but Iovine warned that would be too safe. It turns out Iovine was right, as Velez’s very sweet but very boring take on “Temporary Home” underwhelmed three-quarters of the judge’s panel. “Amazing voice, beautiful vibrato, wrong song choice," said Urban, who was shocked when Minaj completely  disagreed with every single thing he said. “To me this is you, this is your comfort zone. I loved the song with your voice,” she said. Jackson stuck with a tried and true Randy-ism: “That was way too safe, you underplayed yourself,” he said, reminding Velez that this is a competition and he should “go for broke every time on this stage.” Carey tried to be a little nicer: “I think you have the ability to do so much vocally. Please keep doing what you do and keep that confidence.”

Angie Miller (“I Surrender” by Celine Dion, performed by Clarkson): This was a brave move by the woman formerly known as Angela Miller, taking on a monster iconic Clarkson moment from season one. It didn’t help that the producers reminded us of Clarkson’s majesty prior to Miller taking the stage. Miller seems to have a fan in Iovine, however, who feels she is also competing in a beauty pageant. Miller does have the chops to carry the song through, despite not quite reaching the highs that come so naturally to Clarkson, but it was a strong performance, impressing Urban, who loves her high register, and Minaj, who loves her legs (“what I needed,” she said, whatever that means) and wanted to know who designed the dress. “You really, really look like a billion dollars today,” she said. Jackson said Miller could “sing anything” (but refrained from his “singing the phone book line” while reprising his first “in it to win It”), while Carey called the whole performance “stellar.”

Paul Jolley (“Amazed” by Lonestar, performed by McCreery): Jolley’s Achilles' heel, according to Iovine, is oversinging. Iovine has historically had a problem with Broadway-type performances and repeated it again by dissing Les Miserables (“Who sings like that?”) and pointing out that nobody in theater has music on the radio. Wow. Bette Midler may have something to say about that (she starred in Fiddler on the Roof in the ‘60s). Anyhoo, Jolley was determined to prove Iovine wrong, since he was the one that saved him in the first place. His “Amazed” was his best performance of the competition so far, as he stuck to the melody and reigned in his over-the-top tendencies. Urban praised Jolley for taking direction. “I really feel like you've been listening to Jimmy, and the advice is really taking hold." Minaj said Jolley “stimulated my sexual..” Yeah, we didn’t get what she meant, either. Jackson told him not to force his vocal choices, while Carey advised him not to hold back. Yeah, if we were poor Paul, we’d be confused, too.

Candice Glover (“I Who Have Nothing,” by Ben E. King, performed by Sparks): Many astute Idol viewers pointed to this song as the reason Sparks was the victor in season six, so naturally this would be a proving moment for Glover. However, Glover made the song completely her own as she wrapped her enormously gifted vocal cords around the most dramatic moments of the song and ripped the hearts out of everyone in the viewing audience and in the theater. "Just know that if we had more time … we'd still be standing and clapping," Urban said. Minaj was even more direct: "It would be in everybody's best interest to never, ever perform that song ever again. ... You just destroyed and annihilated it. … That was actually my favorite performance you've ever done." Jackson praised it as the best performance while saying “you worked that song out” (didn’t he used to say this when he hated the performance?), and Carey said she would have given an ovation if her dress weren’t so tight.

Lazaro Arbos (“Breakaway” by Clarkson): Iovine warned Arbos that his strong fan base may start to waver if he makes a misstep and urged him to practice “Breakaway” as much as he can. He should have listened to Iovine. Arbos has a wonderful vocal tone to his voice, but this song didn’t do him many favors, despite the fact that he chose the song to reflect what is going on in his life right now. Thank goodness the stylists seem to have incinerated his bow tie. Urban said that the song wasn’t in his wheelhouse, Minaj told him he looked like “Ricky Ricardo” (BANG! ZOOM!), Jackson said he was off pitch, and Carey felt the song didn’t get him to the midrange belting he is capable of.

Kree Harrison (“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison performed by Underwood): Iovine said he thinks Harrison has a sexiness in her voice,but warned her not to “oversing” (frankly, I was perplexed; when has Harrison ever oversung?). No need to worry, as Harrison showed the necessary restraint and control delivering another perfect performance with a final falsetto worthy of Orbison and Underwood, natch. “If you made a record tomorrow, I would go and buy that record,” said her biggest fan, Urban. Minaj was craving buttermilk waffles drenched in Aunt Jemima syrup in the microwave and said that Harrison’s performance was just as smooth and delicious. Jackson was thrown off for a second, but brought it back to singing, praising her subdued approach. Carey said she can’t wait to hear Harrison again.

Burnell Taylor (“Flying Without Wings” by Studdard): We kind of wished Taylor would have taken Iovine’s advice to ditch doing an R&B ballad, but that’s exactly what he did. Taylor dropped the Steve Urkel look by losing the glasses, which was a good move. But he needs to pick some more upbeat material if he wants to continue in the competition. Urban said he loved the singer’s “Burnell-isms,” as does Minaj who said she likes the “twists” as well, while Jackson said Taylor was “in the zone,” and Carey got “emotional.”

Amber Holcomb (“A Moment Like This” by Clarkson): Wow, Holcomb really goes for the brass ring every week, doesn’t she, what with her love of all things Whitney Houston and this week taking on Clarkson’s coronation song from season one. That takes bravery, but Holcomb gets that this is a competition and goes for broke every week. Urban was in “awe,” while Minaj said it was “the best performance of the night.”  Jackson said “A Moment Like This” was the greatest coronation song, EVER (Yeah, nobody wants to talk about “No Boundaries” or “This Is My Now,” do they?), and Carey said #POW.

So what do you think Worshippers? Who are your top three? Who is going home? Let us know in the comments below.

Twitter: @Idol_Worship, @MicheleAmabile