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'American Idol' Season 12: Will American Idol judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj overshadow contestants?

When "American Idol" returns for its 12th season this week, the show will attempt to sustain viewership by emphasizing its contemporary appeal.

Sound familiar?

It's been the name of the game for "Idol" in recent years, as the show fights to stay at the top of an increasingly crowded pool of reality TV shows. The plus side: "Idol" has been around long enough to boast alums who have impacted the music world. The negative side: "Idol" is old.

How old? The son of first-season finalist Nikki McKibbin reportedly auditioned for the current season. That's right: "'American Idol' is so old, a former contestant's kid is trying out," the website Vote for the Worst recently quipped.

Enter this season's dramatic reboot, which so far centers mainly on three new faces at the judges' table: entertainers Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban. Randy Jackson is the last original "Idol" judge left standing.

Have you heard about all the amazing talent the show attracted this season? Me neither. I have, however, heard about a possible feud between Nicki and Mariah. Some sample headlines:

"Nicki Minaj cusses out Mariah Carey during 'American Idol' audition"

"Nicki Minaj-Mariah Carey fights on 'Idol' are real, Fox says"

"Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey ended 'American Idol' feud by watching Nicki's sex tape"

Relevant judges are great, but they shouldn't be the main headline that comes out of the show. That honor should go to a newly discovered pop culture superstar.

Since its debut, "The Voice" has boasted a panel of relevant, contemporary judges with current hits. Yet even with that influence, the show hasn't produced a winner who has entered superstardom.

Which brings me to the success record that currently defines "Idol." Things would look worse if last season's winner, Phillip Phillips, wasn't still riding on the success of his debut single, "Home."

"Idol" finally produced a non-country, guitar-playing male winner with a decent level of success. But it's just one song. And it doesn't erase one of critics' major pet peeves: "Idol" hasn't produced a female winner since its sixth season.

It's spurred critiques of the show's voting process, as well as the way results are revealed. In a recent conference call, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe reportedly expressed an interest in revealing weekly voting rankings as well as regional voting statistics.

Would that make a difference? Maybe. But you don't have to worry about voting policies or judges' panels if your show is fortunate enough to attract real talent. You don't need bells and whistles once you find a singer who has "It."

"American Idol" airs 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on Fox. I'll blog during both episodes.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at or 706-571-8516. Visit to read her "Idol" blog.