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The rumors started almost as soon as American Idol’s season 11 wrapped, and after three months of intense speculation, Fox on Sunday finally announced the official judges lineup for season 12.
Drum roll please… Joining new judge Mariah Carey in the search for the next singing star are none other than rapper Nicki Minaj and country star Keith Urban. After speculation that he might move into a mentor role, Randy Jackson also will be back as a judge. Carey, Minaj and Urban replace Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, who departed at the end of last season. Host Ryan Seacrest remains, while Interscope records chairman Jimmy Iovine also is expected to continue to provide his always colorful commentary.
According to sources, Carey’s contract with the show, factoring in allowances for wardrobe, hair and makeup, is worth close to $18 million. Minaj will pocket a cool $12 million for her part with Urban coming in at half the price. Seacrest earns $15 million a year and is committed to the show for two more seasons. The new judges are locked in for one year. Worth noting: Jackson also co-manages Carey.
What does all this new blood mean for Fox’s billion-dollar franchise? A much-needed respite from years of declining ratings, for one — or so the network brass hope. During season five, Idol boasted an astonishing 35 million viewers — a series high. This year, the show dipped below 20 million for the first time since 2003 when Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken in a hotly contested finale. Making matters worse, the star power of Lopez and Tyler seemed to fade even more during their second tour of Idol duty, losing another quarter of the show’s audience.
New faces will in all likelihood spark renewed interest in the aging singing competition, as the curious tune in to see how the sassy and unpredictable Minaj mixes with Jackson, the gentlemanly Urban and diva extraordinaire Carey.
But in with the new does not necessarily mean out with the old in the case of Idol. Major format changes are not expected and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who’s guided the ship for 10 of the show’s 12 seasons, is returning to the ep role, his rep confirms. Ultimately, Lythgoe would say, it’s the strength of the contestants that brings people back to Idol year after year.
To that end, seemingly ho-hum winners like season 10’s Scotty McCreery and season 11’s Phillip Phillips, two of five so-called WGWGs (white guys with guitars) to take the top spot in as many years, point to another flaw in the Idol formula. Indeed, many of Idol’s runners-up have gone on to more successful and diversified careers — among them, season five’s Katharine McPhee, who stars in NBC’s Smash, and season 11’s Jessica Sanchez, who will appear on Glee this season.
Auditions for Idol’s 12th season kick off Sunday in New York. Other audition cities include Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C.., San Antonio, Baton Rouge, La., and Oklahoma City.
Idol returns in January.
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