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Why 'American Idol' is worth watching

MusicEntertainmentNicki MinajMariah CareySteven TylerSimon Cowell

After what felt like months of rampant speculation, Fox has finally announced that the “American Idol” judges' panel will include pop-rap vixen Nicki Minaj and country statesman Keith Urban. The two are joining fellow newbie, pop diva Mariah Carey, and returning leader Randy Jackson.

The big unveiling was done just under the wire for auditions in New York on Sunday for the show’s 12th season, which will premiere in January.

With gossip sites already attempting to stir a supposedly brewing rivalry between Carey and Minaj, let’s take a look at what the new panel can bring to the aging competition.

And more important, why it’s worth tuning in (besides a possible Carey-Minaj showdown).

Randy Jackson

Just a few weeks ago, reports had “Idol’s” perennial judge exiting the panel and adopting a mentorship role (producers reportedly were going after heartthrob Enrique Iglesias), but the "dawg" lives to bark another day.

For many, Jackson has always been an afterthought, as he's typically taken a backseat to more forceful personalities on the show’s ever-evolving panels.

But post-Simon Cowell, Jackson has transformed into a durable gatekeeper, and after a decade on the show, he’s eased up on the whimsical and often passive criticism to offer some tough and biting feedback. It'll be interesting, to say the least, to see how he plays off Carey, whom he manages and collaborates with. 

Nicki Minaj

Sure, most of Middle America -- i.e. “Idol’s” dedicated viewers and voters -- know Minaj as a quirky, profane rapper with a penchant for colorful wigs and eye-popping garb a la Lady Gaga, but Minaj’s signing makes her the second most exciting thing about “Idol” (behind Carey). She adds a definite breath of fresh air to the panel, and plenty of contestants will likely tackle her massive hit, “Super Bass,” to get her vote but will find it's not as easy as it looks.

The Trinidadian American rapper started in Queens as an edgy, underground act; her bawdy, razor-sharp raps easily eclipsed those of her male peers and collaborators (er, including Carey on 2010’s “Up Out My Face”), and that raw appeal still lies at the base of her work.

Minaj is a relative newcomer, compared to fellow judges and their decades of experience. But that’s exactly what makes her perspective much needed. Minaj has found, and is still carving, her stardom in a Generation Z world where music consumption is fast, furious and disposable. She knows what works in the current state of the music industry and she can offer a fresh and youthful viewpoint. 

At her core, Minaj is a hip-hop artist and it speaks volumes that the biggest talent competition of prime-time television has employed a rapper -- regardless of her flirtation with pop -- to handpick talent. It's a major move and an impressive coup for Minaj.      

Mariah Carey

With Carey aboard, “Idol” scored itself a wealth of credibility for its 12th season -- a credibility it has  lacked from Day 1 --  by doing something incredibly simple: hiring a singer widely recognized for her singing.

The pop diva will prove to be the show’s wild card. Her deliciously outlandish Home Shopping Network stints and a few other appearances over the years prove that she can be loose and lively without a script. Although she will easily eclipse past “Idol” judges Paula Abdul and Steven Tyler in the off-kilter department, Carey will do so with a fabulousness that’s much more entertaining, coherent and ultimately helpful.

And with a two-decade career that has 18 No. 1 hits and 63 million albums under its belt, you’d be hard pressed to find a contestant who won’t be eating up Carey’s feedback.

Keith Urban

For years, viewers and voters have fallen head over heels for the cute, scruffy guy with a guitar -- it's a template of sorts for those who have continued to take the “Idol” crown. So why not get one on the panel?

Bringing in the country perspective is a no-brainer for a show such as this, where many finalists drip with Nashville swagger (the show’s last real success is country-pop star Carrie Underwood), and "Idol" has finally tapped a serious player in that arena.

Urban comes with some serious expertise. His resume is long and meaty, with 14 No. 1 country songs, a host of Grammys and his share of platinum albums over a 20-year career.

He also has talent show experience, having been a judge on the Australian version (he’s a native) of "The Voice," a stint he recently ended due to, wink, “other commitments.”

Where a revamped “American Idol” will stand among the currently overcrowded landscape of talent competitions -- "The X Factor" and "The Voice" are currently battling for viewers with retooled formats --  is still uncertain. But producers have finally found a panel that’s not just there for career resuscitation. They'll likely be worth watching, but can they actually find a viable “Idol”?

Follow @GerrickKennedy

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

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