Headlines over the past week have been dominated by a fiery, often bitter fight, and we’re not just talking about Obama vs. Romney.
We're talking about the nasty feud between “American Idol” judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey.
Behind-the-scenes audition video showed the young rapper ripping Carey with scathing remarks like "off with your head" and "I will knock you out.” The jaw-dropping outburst prompted Carey to tell Barbara Walters that Minaj went as far as to threaten to shoot her, which reportedly resulted in Carey hiring extra security.
While the hatefest has attracted media attention, the viciousness of the feud could prove to be extremely problematic to family-friendly “Idol,” experts say.
“I believe FOX hired Nicki in an attempt to recruit a younger demographic and compete with shows like ‘The Voice’ and FOX’s own ‘The X-Factor.’ But Nicki is extremely polarizing, and from the moment her addition to the ‘Idol’ judging panel was announced, there were a lot of protests from longtime viewers,” Yahoo! Music Managing Editor Lyndsey Parker told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column, adding that the recent fight video resembled something of a scene from ‘Real Housewives of Idol.’ “Very trashy and very nasty and that is not what a feel-good, family-friendly show like ‘Idol’ is supposed to be about. Focus less on the superstar judges and their crazy behavior, and more on the superstars the show claims it is trying to discover.”
So can Minaj or Carey bow out of 'Idol' if the going gets too rough?
“The short answer is yes. FOX will not be able to force either Minaj or Carey to stick with the program against their will,” Adli Law Group P.C. President Dariush Adli, Ph.D., Esq explained. “FOX may well, however, have recourse to suing them for damages that it will likely suffer as a result of their quitting, such as the cost of finding a replacement, the interruption in the program schedule, negative publicity, etc.”
Carey is most likely to be able to quit without facing a court action by the network or production team, Adli said.
“She can claim a legitimate concern about her safety or at least an inability to fully focus on her role as a judge as a result of this threat. Minaj, on the other hand, will likely face a lawsuit if she quits the program for having brought on the outcome,” he said. “In fact, if they both quit, Minaj will likely be sued on both contracts.”
Legal experts also noted that Minaj could potentially be given the boot from the talent-seeking show. After all, let’s not forget that British songstress Cheryl Cole was dumped from “The X Factor” lineup during last season’s audition phase, and not because she necessarily did anything wrong, but rather because of concerns over the panel chemistry and reports that she may not gel with a U.S. audience.
“Celebrity contracts typically include what is commonly referred to as ‘morals clauses’ or ‘responsible conduct clauses.’ These clauses recognize the potential negative effects that a celebrity's on or off camera activities can have on the program with which the celebrity is associated,” Adli continued. “Morals clauses give the program the contractual right to terminate a celebrity contract in the event the celebrity engages in certain offending conduct or behaves in a manner that would reflect negatively on the individual's character, and, by association, that of the program with which the celebrity is associated with.”
And according to California-based attorney Anahita Sedaghatfar, Minaj’s contract would almost certainly contain a ‘termination for cause’ provision, meaning the “American Idol” powers-to-be could prematurely terminate her standing under certain circumstances.
“Surely this would include threatening to shoot someone. Similarly, the contract would likely also contain a provision allowing Minaj to prematurely terminate it under enumerated circumstances,” she said. “Call me pessimistic, but I cannot help but believe this whole Minaj/Carey fight was staged. But stunt or not, we are all talking about the fiasco and ‘Idol’ is getting a lot of publicity.”
Of course, the captured catfight instantly brought about widespread speculation that it was all a well-crafted publicity stunt designed to get tongues wagging and boost ratings, which have slipped prominently in recent years. Yet according to at least one insider, things are indeed tense behind the scenes, and its likely there will be limited press opportunities until it “all blows over.”
And not all publicity is good publicity.
“Fiery exchanges can enhance a show, as they did between Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. But they can be toxic,” cautioned veteran entertainment publicist, Glenn Selig. “It could destroy a show and morale across the board, and get in the way of producing a good program. The public needs to see Nicki acting professionally, and if she fails that they will likely lose tolerance.”
FOX declined to comment on the controversy, and the producers of the show side-stepped around the widely speculated turn of events.
"This is one of the best, most passionate, dynamic and invested judging panels we've ever had. We love and support all of the judges and the fantastic work they are doing, and we can't imagine a better group to find the next American Idol,” they said in a statement on Friday. “Despite all the accusations and media speculation -- much of which is inaccurate -- production is going extremely well today and the judges are focused on finding the best talent here in Baton Rouge."
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay