LOS ANGELES – Season 12 of “American Idol” kicked off with auditions in New York City on Wednesday night, and new judge Nicki Minaj didn’t waste any time.
The bewigged Trinidad-born rapper and pop star made it clear that she would not, under any circumstance, indulge fellow judge Mariah Carey’s prima donna antics.
“I have to strangle one of the divas on the panel, but I won’t tell you who,” a visibly annoyed Minaj told one of the camera operators by the end of the show.
Earlier in the day at the judges’ table, Minaj offered plenty of side eyes, grimaces and none-too-subtle digs aimed at Carey, who clearly got on the “Super Bass” singer’s nerves right from the start.
For her part, Carey, who host Ryan Seacrest described as “the definition of diva,” didn’t put up too much of a fight. At times, Carey seemed simply bewildered by Minaj’s borderline-rude behavior.
“You know that there’s going to be a little bit of potential personality conflict,” explained Ryan. “Our superstars were super passionate from the get-go.”
Meanwhile, country star Keith Urban – the third new judge to join the panel – did his best to not get caught in the crossfire. He emerged unscathed, save for a bit of Coca-Cola that he spilled on Minaj.
Both Carey and Urban were fairly straightforward in their critiques of contestants, but Minaj mixed it up by being a champion of both the quirky and the strange.
One of Minaj’s favorites was 17-year-old blueberry farm worker Sarah Restuccio, who was equally adept belting out Carrie Underwood’s “Mamma’s Song” and fearlessly rapping a freestyle version of “Super Bass.”
“It was two different moments, and I feel, two perfected moments,” declared Minaj, interrupting Carey mid-sentence. “Nobody does that.”
While Minaj didn’t bother coddling Carey, she was exceptionally sweet and encouraging to all of the contestants – even while offering a blunt assessment on their lack of vocal talents.
“I really mean what I say when I say that you are special – just not for this competition,” Minaj gently consoled 15-year-old Justin Bieber wannabe James Bae. “But I think for life in general, I love that you own it. You’re so young, you’re not afraid – I would never do this when I was your age. I was so scared.”
Minaj then rewarded Bae with a supportive hug and kiss.
Along with the usual gang of terrible singers, the New York auditions offered various tales of woe: One contestant was missing a limb, another was partially deaf, and poor Brett Holt had endured seven years of sad, failed “American Idol” auditions.
By the end of the day, the judges had selected 41 hopefuls to go to Hollywood, and Minaj was feeling pretty hopeful herself.
“I feel like we gel well,” Minaj revealed to her fellow judges. “In a weird, crazy way.”
“I agree,” noted Carey.
Next up: “Idol” shuffles off to Chicago.