American Idol heads to Charlotte tonight, and things heat up between judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Stick around for a blow-by-blow account and give us your take on the show.
And we're done. Dun Dun, that is: So it's been a long couple days in Charlotte, definitely for Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, and probably also for Seretha Guinn, who has her young daughter, London Marie, with her.
Guinn's boyfriend was recently in a serious car accident and was unresponsive for two days. He's had to have eight surgeries. She plans to surprise him with the news that she has auditioned and will be going to Hollywood.
She brings London Marie in to audition with her, and London Marie not only has a bear for Minaj, she's also got a nickname for her - Dun Dun.
Guinn's got the oddest audition choice of the year, so far: The theme from the old Will Smith comedy, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And she knocks it out of the park. The judges ask for a second song, just for a reference point, and Seretha makes a 180 to sing the LeAnn Rimes/Trisha Yearwood hit How Do I Live.
She was the last audition of the day, so I expected her to be good. But I didn't expect that.
Frogs and bacon. Yum.: I like Ja'Bria Barber already. Any singer who likes to gig frogs is OK by me. "Cut the legs off, fry 'em up, put some hot sauce on 'em. Tastes like chicken."
I cannot tell you how much I want this girl to make the Top Three. Can you imagine the hometown visit they'd give her?
As it is, Nicki Minaj gives her the best nickname so far this season: Frog Killer.
As befits a frog-gigging South Carolina girl, she's a blues shouter, ripping it up with Bonnie Raitt's version of Pride and Joy (also done by Stevie Ray Vaughan).
"Frog don't taste like chicken, but yes," Randy Jackson tells you.
Up next, it's Brad Harris, who looks like Bizarro World Phil Stacey and likes to break steel chairs with his head. "I don't think it did any damage."
Somehow, the audition turns into a Nicki Minaj monologue on bacon. Eventually, Mariah Carey gets things back on track, just in time for Harris to sing A Whole New World from Aladdin. "I can open your eyes," Harris begins, but he apparently can't remember the words. Oh, no, he gets back on track after all. But it's not very good.
Shoulda stuck with the bacon. Bacon makes everything better.
Except Brad Harris.
The Voice(s) of Charlotte: Keith Urban's got to leave at 2:30 (wife Nicole Kidman's getting an award), so he wants to get as many auditions in as he possibly can.
Unfortunately, they're all bad.
Except maybe for Rodney Barber, who's been a street singer in Charlotte for the past couple years. He used to be homeless, so, now, he uses some of his tips to help the neighborhood homeless where he sings.
Barber sings Edwin McCain's I'll Be with a power and a presence that we haven't seen much - it's the confidence of someone who has had to make his living getting people to hear him over traffic and pay attention.
Randy Jackson thinks Barber's an inspiration. Now Hollywood will get to hear "The Voice of Charlotte."
Next, it's another familiar face: Candice Glover, who got cut in Hollywood. "I think I grew a lot between last year and this year," Glover says. She says she has a better grasp on who she is.
"What is your name again?" Jackson asks. Glover tells him, then gives a shout-out to Season 11 contestant Joshua Ledet. Glover was good enough to get to Las Vegas last year, so she's good enough to get back to Hollywood this year. Looks like she's picked up a few extra chops, too. Dang, she sounds even better than I remember.
"Best audition I've heard so far this season!" Jackson exclaims. "What the what is going on?"
Minaj is more to the point: "I want to skin you and wear you."
Carey wishes Glover already had something out that she could listen to. "I felt you, I felt you."
Third time's a charm?: As we return, Carey makes a joke about a contestant's cartoonish hat and Minaj - whose own hat could only be perfectly described as "cartoonish" - widens her eyes. Carey realizes what she's said and apologizes profusely - the kind of profuse apology one makes when they expect the offended party to blow their stack. Minaj gets this and eventually chuckles. Crisis averted.
Ashley Smith - aka Blondie - a young black woman with blond hair and a nose ring, appears to be the kind of woman who could carry her own reality-TV show. She's also going to sing Carrie Underwood's Cowboy Casanova. (Of course.) Oh, wait: She's actually pretty good, bringing out the song's smoky swing roots.
"I like that you sang country!" Minaj says, having, you know, just gotten into a major spat with Carey and the other two judges just the day before about country music.
The other judges, who were expecting Ashley to be one of the show's joke contestants, are pleasantly surprised. The judges vote unanimously: "Yes!"
Blondie's bound for Hollywood.
Next, it's a Minaj nickname montage: Vicki V, Tom Cruise, Stud, Fishnet Girl, Gumby, G-Riff, Bunny, Booby Trap, Top Hat, Edgar Allen Poe, Big Crazy Barb, Finger Lickin' Good. And, of course, Little Ladybug.
And then we're on to Janelle Arthur, who we saw briefly in Seasons 10 and 11, and who once portrayed a young Dolly Parton at Parton's theme park.
Arthur's got a Keith Urban song ready - Where the Blacktop Ends - which she surprisingly segues into his Walk in the Country. Urban's easily won over: "I just loved that song!" he says.
So Arthur gets a third trip to Hollywood.
The fall-out: It's Day 2, and news of Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj's big blow-up is all over the news - even though, as we've now seen, it was actually a blow-up between Minaj and the rest of the cast (at least if we can trust the version of the story the show's producers have shown us).
Is Carey hoping for more of the same on Day 2? "Hope not," she says.
Brandy Hamilton is nervous going in - she's heard the reports like everybody else. Hamilton's a Navy reservist who got in trouble for singing too much.
Hamilton's got a strong performance of Etta James' All I Could Do Was Cry in her back pocket - there's nothing like a well-sung throwback that hasn't been done to death to win over the judges.
Randy Jackson thinks she lit up the room. Keith Urban wants to hear more. Minaj and Carey may not agree on much, but they agree that Hamilton's got the stuff.
As Hamilton leaves, she tells the judges: "Please don't fight - it makes us sad."
Hope they were paying attention.
The blow-up: Taisha Bethea fronts an alternative-rock band called Carson. "I want to do rock 'n' roll, so let's make that happen," she tells Randy before letting him know that she wants to audition with Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. "I do a twist; I make it rockin'." It's kind of a neat, jazzy version, and Bethea gives it a breathy little yelp, the same kind she uses on her second song, Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know. The judges aren't quite sure what to make of Bethea, and Keith Urban even wishes he could hear her with her band.
Nicki Minaj and Mariah disagree on her, as do Keith Urban and Randy Jackson. Urban's the Charlotte tie-breaker, so Bethea gets through by the skin of her teeth.
The split's a sign of things to come, as the judges disagree more and more often, but, near as I can tell, there aren't any teams forming. "I have no idea what just happened," one singer says as she leaves the room.
By the time Summer walks into the room to sing Bill Withers' Lean on Me, there's a deep rift between Carey and Minaj, one that's been forming since the first set of auditions.
Minaj thinks Summer has a pretty voice. Summer tells Urban that she "did the country thing," which puts him off entirely. Jackson sees her as a country singer - she's got a natural yodel-like break in her voice. Carey wants more information about her. Urban loves her voice, if not her attitude. Jackson gives her a yes, as well. Carey starts to talk about her voice, and Minaj is looking fed-up and bored.
"For a minute, I thought it was a country music debate," Minaj says. Minaj thinks the other three judges went overboard in their critique of her comment about "the country thing," and an argument breaks out. Eventually, they get around to telling Summer that she can go to Hollywood. The argument continues, with none of the other judges understanding why Minaj is so upset. Eventually, she gets so frustrated that she walks off the set.
"That was my move!" Carey says. "I was going to do that."
Listening to the Muse: Scotty McCreery's hanging out with the big crowd, and Matthew Muse hopes to follow in his footsteps. "I'm going to do everything I can to get that golden ticket!" he exclaims. But he looks like a guy who's got more personality than chops. He's so excited that he's stumbling over his words. He tells Keith Urban people tell him he sounds like Brad Paisley (but he looks more like Chris Young in need of a haircut). Muse takes a few deep breaths to center himself, then sings in his best Paisley voice. Which isn't really very good at all. But he's a better dancer than Joel Nemoyer, so he's got that going for him.
He's nowhere near ready for Idol, "but you could be a model, though," Minaj tells him, then gets him to walk like he's on a catwalk. I get the feeling she enjoys seeing what she can get contestants to do.
Cool dude, but no.
Isabelle Gonzalez has an aunt who thinks she's a great singer. So Randy rides a school bus to Alpharetta High School in Georgia to check her out. He pulls Gonzalez out of an assembly to give her an audition number.
Gonzalez make a bit of a left-field pick - Sam Cooke's Nothing Can Change This Love - which she sings in sort of a Southern Amy Winehouse voice. Minaj says she could listen to Gonzalez sing all day. "You're a natural," Keith Urban tells her.
"You are so adorable," says Carey. "People are going to fall in love with you, because you are a star."
Gonzalez's family covers her with Silly String as she emerges with her golden ticket.
Note to Gonzalez's aunt: Thank you. That was a good call.
The hunger games: Contestant Jimmy Smith tells Keith Urban (who has been sharing his trail mix with Nicki Minaj) that he's a huge influence. "You're going to Hollywood!" Urban tells him. Smith's here via an online audition, and he sings Rascal Flatts' Bless the Broken Road. Good, supple country voice.
"Poppin', poppin', poppin'," Minaj says. "Your voice was the voice I was waiting to hear today."
Urban thinks he sounds more like Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox than Urban. "I wish I could sing like that," he says. It's an easy decision to pass Smith through to Hollywood - all auditions should go this smoothly (although Urban says he could use some food, having apparently run out of trail mix - guess that's what he gets for sharing).
"I was a little nervous with Nicki," Smith tells Ryan Seacrest, "but she was right on board from the beginning."
He's not the only good singer waiting in the wings: Sarina-Joi Crowe, Haley Davis, Na'Chelle Fullins-Lovell (who's got an astonishing head voice) and others impress the judges. And it's not even lunchtime!
Don't take it lying down: Keith Urban's having some trouble settling in, but so is Joel Nemoyer, an odd 20-year-old who lies on the floor when he sings. There's some science to back up his habit - John Lennon, for instance, recorded Revolution lying on his back, and during the Chris Daughtry season, David Foster shared a story about recording Andrea Bocelli while the singer lay on the floor.
Nemoyer compliments Minaj on her pink hair, and she replies, "My hair is edible."
Nemoyer - whom Minaj has nicknamed Jo-Manji - wants to sings Michael Buble's Feeling Good, so he promptly lays out on the floor, much to the shock and amusement of the judges.
"Actually, that's a first for us," Minaj tells him. "So I feel like, if nothing else, you made history." Urban and Carey think maybe singing's not Nemoyer's thing. And Randy says, "Never."
"I'm probably going to have to get proper training," Nemoyer says afterward.
Next up: Brian Rittenberry, a bookkeeper from Georgia whose wife was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2009, but she has recovered well. Rittenberry puts some oomph into his rendition of The Beatles' Let It Be.
"Wow, I didn't expect that, and you took me by surprise," Carey says. Urban thinks his voice is husky and cool. The judges vote yes as Seacrest brings in Rittenberry's wife, who's got a bit of a crush on Urban.
"You've got a talented man," Urban tells her. "Just don't keep him in the basement."
Days of thunder: Tonight, Idol heads to NASCAR Country - Charlotte. And if early reports are to be believed, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj are going to do more than trade paint. In fact, Idol starts the show with, well, with the show shutting down.
But, first, we flashback six hours earlier, to the crowds and North Carolina native Scotty McCreery and the arrival of the judges, including the cotton-candy-haired Minaj.
"Two years ago, I was sitting in the stands like y'all," McCreery tells the crowd, recalling the time he heard Ryan Seacrest tell him and several thousand others that the next American Idol could be in the room. And, son of a gun, if he wasn't.
Once the judges get everything set - chairs, ice, make-up - it's time for fashionable auditioner Naomi Morris. "I want the judges to remember me, and not just for what I have one," she says.
Minaj starts cutting up with Morris, nicknaming her Omi, and the 28-year-old bartender launches into a brassy, off-key rendition of Aretha Franklin's Respect.
"I'm so nervous," she says afterward. "I know I could sing better than that."
Minaj gives her a second chance, but Morris' version of Ain't Too Proud to Beg is no better. Randy Jackson just shakes his head.
Minaj, who has taken control of this audition, asks for a vote. As expected, she gets unanimous no's.
"Don't let this bring you down, because you're a beautiful girl," Carey tells her.
As Morris leaves, Carey and Minaj trade a few lines about bra size, and their body language suggests they've had just. about. enough. of each other.
"Stay with us," Seacrest says, "as the wheels fall off."