Mariah and Nicki Talk Idol and More!
By: Lynn Barker
Starting its 12th year on Fox TV, the original TV singing talent show “American Idol” has blended two divas into the judging mix. Iconic Mariah Carey and feisty rapper Nicki Minaj (alongside country boy Keith Urban). Are the two girls still fighting? Maybe not but they have a few different opinions as judges. The stars were in Pasadena recently talking to press. Here’s the haps
Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj at the interview
Q: There has been a lot in the news lately about the supposed feud between (you two). Is that whole thing fake? I realize it’s a passionate panel.
- Mariah: Honestly, this is a very passionate panel. I think there are a lot of strong personalities, and, starting this process, I felt like it was a possibility that there could be differences of opinions. One thing that I think is great is if it’s such a diverse group of people, and I don’t feel like wow, I’m an expert in this arena or that arena, I feel like there’s someone to look to, who has maybe the same opinion as I do or someone that knows more. I would say, “Keith, I think this person is great. What do you think?” So I think, the fighting is what it is. “American Idol” is bigger than all that. It’s bigger than some stupid, trumped up thing. I think it’s about the next huge talent, superstar that will come from this show.
Q: So, Nicki and Mariah, to counter all the nonsense that’s been written, could you each say something you like and admire about the other?
- Nicki: That actually is easy. I say nice things about Mariah all the time, and I even tell her all the time how much of a fan I am of her. She’s one of my favorite artists of all time, and I think she’s really shaped a generation of singers, and to be on a panel with her, it’s kind of crazy because all these singers that come in, they aspire to be a Mariah Carey in terms of their talent, and in terms of their career length, and so I feel excited to see them see someone who they look up to so much and to be given a chance to sing in front of her and hear her critique.
- Mariah: That was obviously a very sweet thing to say. Nicki and I worked together very early on in her career and did a song that was from an album that I had done called “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,” and it’s called “Up Out My Face,” ironically, and it actually, it was one of my favorite videos and songs, and I did know and I did feel that she was going to go very far, and still have that feeling, and I’m grateful for anything nice that she or anyone were to say about me. I’m grateful just to be here today still doing what I love and what the group of people, talented, great people and, you know, focusing on the diversity, the talent and all the things that we like to focus on and think about.
The judges on the show
Q: Nicki, why add “American Idol” to your already busy schedule now?
- Nicki: It’s a great question, and I’ve said probably before many times, that even up until the last day before I had to sign my contract, I was still not 100 percent sold because I felt like the “American Idol” brand is so big that you can’t do it unless you commit fully, and I kind of already knew that without even doing it, and I just realize that I’ve made a lot of difficult choices in my career, and I was like, “I’m never going to get the opportunity to be a part of something this big and something that reaches Middle America”, and I just felt like I didn’t really have anything to lose.
- It was a show that I have watched since the first season. It’s an incredible show. I know it’s really going to create a superstar, and I wanted to have a part in that. In terms of my busy schedule, I have to thank the producers for that, because they really, really made an effort to work around me. I did two tours last year and world tours, and I didn’t think it was even going to happen. They moved some stuff around for me to do it, and I’m really happy that it worked out.
Q: What has most surprised you, Mariah, about being a judge on the show?
- Mariah: I feel like I had to learn so much sitting with the panel of people who really knew the show and know the show a lot better than I do, because busy schedules are there for all of us. We all have our own schedules and our things and our albums to promote and tours and whatever. (I knew) Randy since way before he was even on this show, and he told me about it. “Yeah, this little show that I’m doing,” and it turns out to be this most gigantic phenomenon we’ve ever seen that’s changed music in so many ways, and so I got here and really didn’t know how one would approach doing it. So I just had to be as honest as I could in my critiquing of the contestants who would come, and it’s difficult. It was really tough for me to say “no” in the beginning.
Mariah with Randy Jackson
Q: So you didn’t want to turn anyone down?
- Mariah: I used to duck my head, like, “No, thank you.” I really literally had a very tough time with it because, as a kid, you get turned down a lot, and I was very young when I first started in this business, and it’s tough to get that rejection. We’ve all felt it, and I see some of these people who I know are talented but maybe not in a way that “American Idol”, the biggest show of its kind, is going to be able to take them to their fullest.
Q: Nicki, is saying “no” hard for you?
- Nicki: When I watch these shows and someone says “yes” to a person who clearly doesn’t deserve it, it bothers me. It bothers me in my soul, and I want to jump through the TV, because I feel like for the people who are talented there, it kind of minimizes or takes away from how talented they really are. So when I came on, I didn’t really have a problem with saying “no” because I kind of felt like we’re looking for the best of the best.
- I remember just watching “American Idol” from home and I didn’t like when people would be just overtly passive about the talent, because we’re really here to do a job, and I don’t want to be here if I’m not really going to do it. Everybody’s getting paid to be here. So it’s like we literally can go there, sit there, do nothing, and get a check. And I was, like, “I don’t want to do that”. I don’t feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story or because there’s something going on that may make people cry, because I feel like even the great singers have stories that may make us cry, but that shouldn’t change our decision. That’s kind of unfair to the ones who really are great.
Nicki in one of her wild outfits
Q: Some of the contestants listen to your advice and others don’t. Is it hard when they don’t?
- Mariah: (Sometimes), you can actually help somebody go from here to here (gesturing low to high) within a week, and it’s amazing to see. But it’s tough when they don’t listen and then come back and they do the same thing, because you know that they have the potential. That’s where I get frustrated.
- It was so tough for me. I was down there to the bitter end fighting for this little, sweet 16 year old kid, but you can tell the minute they start the song too high, it’s, like, “Why? Why did you do that? Why?”
Q: Do you get disappointed when you have a favorite and they just don’t make it?
- Nicki: It’s only human nature that you’re going to get favorites, and we have to discuss it with three other people, and by the time they get to Hollywood Week, I feel, like, “If you don’t do it, I’m going to take it personal. I can’t fight for you anymore after this time. I need you to step up”. What happened was she was really great, but nobody else thought she could sing. Obama Girl.
- So really no one else thought she could sing. Everybody was saying how that’s a crazy character, which I can relate to that because sometimes when you have such a crazy, outgoing character, people don’t even try to see your talent. But she really stuck out to me, and by the time we were in Hollywood, they finally said, “You know what, she does have a good voice.” I was, like, “If you tone it down a little bit, I know they’ll be able to hear your voice,” and they really did. And you guys are going to love her.
- Mariah: Yes. What I found really interesting was the fact that there were literally, like, street performers who might have a real just raspy, raw quality, a songwriter type, very edgy-person talent, and then you’ll have your typical kind of divaesque person or cute boy with guitar type. And it’s very difficult. Who’s a better singer? Who’s more unique? There are so many factors to take in that it’s, like, wow, this is very complicated.
The girls with host Ryan Seacrest
Q: You two seem fine now. So you worked it out?
- Mariah: The whole thing is convoluted and so you know what it is? It’s a distraction from the show, and it’s a distraction from the contestants, and I think it’s unfair to them, really because it shouldn’t be about any of us sitting up here. It should be about the contestants. I think time sorts everything out.
- Nicki: We just really professionals, and have you ever had an argument with someone you worked with? America just wants drama.
Q: Nicki do you feel like rappers should be more a part of the show?
- Nicki: I definitely don’t think a rapper should be in this competition. Rap and hip hop is completely different from “American Idol”. I started off in the streets. I started off selling mix tapes out of my car. It’s a different situation. For some reason, the hip hop community wants you to be credible. They want to know that you really went through a certain thing in your life. This is different. With singing, people really don’t care what you’ve necessarily gone through. They’re going to love a song because it’s going to touch them or inspire them or whatever it does. But with rap, it’s different.
- So I would never go on a show like this as a rapper, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to come on as a rapper. I don’t think it’s authentic, and I think, if you’re really looking for people to believe you and see you as an authentic rapper, you wouldn’t do it. It’s definitely not a rapper competition. And when I got involved with the competition, I specifically said I hope they didn’t try to do that because I was on the show, because I think America loves that it’s an honest singing competition, and I’m not here to change that. I’m just here to help judge.
Nicki on stage
Q: Mariah, would you have ever wanted to compete on a show like this?
- Mariah: I personally would never have wanted to do this type of show. No offense to the show at all, but because the direction that I went, I did have my struggles that I went through as a singer, as a songwriter, sleeping on the floor in the studio. I’ve told my story a zillion times. It needn’t be rehashed again. But I had to learn in front of the world how to be on TV and sing and it’s sort of like what these kids do, only at that time it was the “Arsenio Hall Show”. It was very tough, especially when I see these kids, and I’m totally relating to them, because I was basically their age when I was starting out and having to be in front of all of America, and eventually the world.
- I think I was a little bit shy and unpolished in the beginning in order to be on one of these shows, which, at that time, you would have had to be a little bit more showy and have your whole thing together. I just wanted people to hear me for my voice and for my songs that I was writing, and I didn’t have very many clothes or outfits or things. So that part of the competition would have been out the window. I had my one black dress, my one pink dress. That was it. So I don’t know. These shows aren’t for everybody. I prefer the way things worked out for me and just writing and learning about being in the studio and producing.
Q: Who do you two idolize in music?
- Nicki: One of mine is Jay-Z. One of my favorite all time, Bob Marley. Enya, love her, to name a few.
- Mariah: I grew up in a household where I heard everything. My mom’s an opera singer. She was always singing. And that’s how she first knew that I had an ear for music, but my brother and sister, who are older than me, were always listening to R&B constantly Stevie Wonder. We heard Al Green in my house night and day. Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin. As life went on, Whitney Houston. I love a lot of gospel singers, the Clark Sisters. Our favorite was Kim Burrell. I also love a lot of rock music that my brother played when I was a little kid. I also love hip hop whether it’s part of the show or not.
Mariah doing her thing
Q: Is doing the show making it hard to balance the rest of your careers?
- Nicki. I’ve actually been balancing my career with the show the whole time. Like I said, I was doing a tour. And then since we’ve been back, I’ve been doing spot days and appearances and other stuff. It’s great. It’s not like we come to work Monday through Friday 9:00 to 5:00, you know. We can schedule around it. When you’re used to multi- tasking, when you’re used to a busy schedule, it’s almost like, if I’m not busy, then I feel weird. When you want the career to stop, then you stop working. But if you don’t, then there’s always a way to balance it.
- Mariah: I agree with that. When we started, I was already in the studio writing, recording, working on my new record that I’m working on right now and also doing spot dates around the world. And yet when we sat down, I had my own reservations as massive as this show is, I’ve never done anything like it. We had some intense meetings. Ultimately, it’s been really good for me because it actually makes me stop and take a break because I, too, will just continue working. And this is my life. This is all I know how to do.
- Now I have to also take care of two little babies. Yes the nannies help me out. Yay, nannies! But I think (the show) is a great thing because it’s such a worldwide brand that people have grown to love. It’s become part of people’s family. So, doing this for a living and continuing what I do, for me, has been a lot of fun. It’s something I never expected to do, never really thought I’d do.
Catch the 12th season of "American Idol" starting January 16th on Fox!