Can Mariah Carey Save ‘American Idol’?

Bigger Than the Sound ponders whether Carey's talents — and supreme divatude — will be enough to resuscitate 'Idol.'

Can Mariah Carey save “American Idol”? Probably not, but it’s going to be pretty entertaining watching her try.

As you probably know by now, on Monday, Carey confirmed she’d be bolstering the show’s depleted roster of judges, which, at the moment, features Randy Jackson (unless he decides to switch to the less-demanding “mentor” role , sort of like an aging slugger taking a DH job in the American League) and absolutely no one else. It was the first in what will certainly be a series of moves designed to reinvigorate the flagging show, which is coming off its steepest ratings drop in history and is in danger of being lapped by competitors like “The Voice” and “The X Factor” — if not in ratings, then in genuine cultural currency . And while turning “Idol” around may be a tall order, I’d like to think Carey’s the woman for the job.

Of course, that’s not to say she’ll actually succeed at bringing “Idol” back from the brink, but her addition to the judging panel is certainly a step in the right direction. Because Mariah Carey is going to be a fantastic judge. With her, the show has its response to “The X Factor” hiring Britney Spears . Carey is a genuine diva and certified icon who was scoring hits when Brit Brit was too young for “The Mickey Mouse Club.” In the ever-escalating Cold War of televised singing competitions, Carey is sort of like the Apollo 11 to Spears’ Sputnik — sure, “X Factor” got into orbit, but “American Idol” got to the moon. (And, potential contestants, I ask you: Would you rather take singing advice from a metallic sphere or Neil-Freakin’-Armstrong?)

Sure, you could argue that, over the past few years, Carey’s career has cooled, but, as is the case with so many divas before her, she’s more than made up for that by fully embracing her crazy side. I’m not even talking about stuff like performing for Moammar Gadhafi or naming your children Moroccan and Monroe either; more like her rambling, too-fabulous-for-words appearance on HSN last year, when she hawked fragrances and “pave crystal hoop earrings,” called everyone “dah-ling” and sounded like she’d spent the previous evening bumming smokes from Adele. It was the kind of performance we’ve missed on “Idol” ever since Paula Abdul took the contents of her Coke cup and headed out into the ether. And the show has certainly suffered because of it. Now, with Carey, they’re back in the crazy business. Will she nod off during a live broadcast? Throw shade at Ryan Seacrest? Threaten to cut a bitch? Probably all three. For the first time in forever, anything is possible.

To that point, I’m not sure if Carey’s tenure will be a tremendous success or a terrifying train wreck — just imagine if she brings out the ice-cream cart — but I do know that, for the first time in years, I’ve got a reason to tune in to “Idol” once again. She will undoubtedly bring some much-needed unpredictability to the show, not to mention plenty of attitude and the kind of résumé any wannabe superstar could only hope to attain (she will probably also manage to out-accessorize the recently departed Steven Tyler). Carey could help bring “Idol” back to its glory years, when the judges actually had something to say and viewers actually listened. And for a long-suffering “Idol” fan like myself, tired of all the niceties and platitudes, that change would certainly be a welcome one.

While there’s still plenty to fix on “American Idol,” Carey’s hiring shows that producers are at least serious about trying. Sure, they’ve essentially got to rebuild the entire franchise around her, find one (or two) judges to offset her style, and figure out a way of rigging voting so a white guy with a guitar doesn’t win every year . But for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve got hope. You can rest assured that no matter what happens, Mariah’s going to be Mariah, and “Idol” will be a great show because of her. Or at least better than when Ellen DeGeneres was a judge. And after 11 seasons, you gotta take what you can get.

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