When producers hired flame-throwing rapper Nicki Minaj to fill-out an "American Idol" panel anchored by legendary diva Mariah Carey, immediate questions arose over whether the two opinionated women would be able to coexist on the panel.
Well, the explosive on-set argument this week divided fans, spurred claims from Carey's husband Nick Cannon that it was just "theatrics" and resulted in a vicious Twitter tirade from Minaj attacking Carey after the "Shake It Off" singer referred to Minaj as "unpredictable" during an interview with Barbara Walters.
Given the unexpected judge drama, we asked a few "Idol" experts if they think the Mariah/Nicki beef is the beginning of the end-before-the-beginning of version 12.0 of the show? Or is it an elaborate ruse aimed at revving us up months before "Idol" hits the air and stealing some thunder from "X Factor" and "The Voice?"
"I don't know if anyone ever believed it was hoax," said TVLine senior editor Michael Slezak. "It's tough to foresee how Fox can proceed with a great deal of confidence to the live shows with these two on the panel." When Slezak first saw the TMZ headline that broke the story via a surreptitiously recorded video, he said he thought maybe executive producer Nigel Lythgoe was up to his old tricks again and that he'd encouraged one, or both, women to mix it up.
" 'Idol' is in its off season, 'X Factor' and 'The Voice' are on now and 'Idol' is the third priority in the news cycle and suddenly it's catapulted to first in the cycle even though it's not on the air," Slezak said. "So that's good. When it comes time to watch the audition episodes, which are always the most boring, stale part, now you have something to look forward to."
"Idol" blogger MJ Santilli also doubted that the fight was staged and said when the accusations ramped up and got personal on Thursday in Minaj's Twitter screed, things go too real. "Maybe you'd expect this from the Beatles after they were together for a while and resentments built up, but these two don't even know each other that well," she said.
Given what we've seen so far and the two women's public personas, Santilli said it's hard to see how this can work out. "They're like two schoolgirls right now," she said. "Mariah is super passive-aggressive and I think she's been baiting her and Nicki just seems like a hothead ... and she [Minaj] doesn't seem at all contrite. If this fight is over some dumb contestant, will it happen every five minutes on the live shows?"
Considering that rumors circulated from the day Minaj was announced as a panelist of tension between the women, Santilli said it's possible that the sparks Lythgoe was hoping for by hiring the two might have burst into a conflagration even he can't control.
"There were so many complaints about the judging panel being dull and he wanted to spice things up," Santilli said. "With Nicki there was an opportunity to get a current hip-hop artist at the top of her game with a following of young fans that they thought might help fix the aging demo problem. Maybe they were expecting the two of them to do a cat fighting thing, but not anticipating a full on hate war. I don't know if this panel will make it to the live shows."
Long term, "Idol" has always been an earnest family show where unknown kids go to get their shot at rising from anonymity to worldwide fame, Slezak said. But it's never been about nasty infighting among judges. "That's a different vibe all together and I'd be concerned if I was running the show about whether this toxicity is enough to kill the golden goose?"
If "Idol" turns into "The Real Housewives of 'American Idol,' " then Slezak thinks that could spell the end of the show.
Both Slezak and Santilli doubted that Minaj would stick around to make her network debut on the live shows early next year. And if Nicki bails, it's probably not a terrible thing for her, or the show.
"One of the worst mistakes 'Idol' made was putting four judges on the panel," said Slezak. "That a momentum killer because they're not coaching and the two seasons when they had four judges it was just a lot of yapping ... especially when you have four fairly big egos and each wants to make sure they have their own time in the spotlight."
"A brilliant exit strategy for Nicki would be to leave the show almost like, 'I'm too cool for reality television.' Plus Mariah comes out on top, like, 'I'm the real diva because my word is what counts.' And it wouldn't be bad for the show to get down to a three judge panel again."
Do you think "Idol" will make it to the live shows with a four-judge panel? Let us know in comments below.