'American Idol' Season 12 Debut: The Reviews Are In!

Critics praise new judge Nicki Minaj for her honesty, fret about focus on judges over singers.

Before Wednesday night's "American Idol" season 12 debut, all we really knew was that new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj were probably not going to be recording another duet anytime soon. With the attention focused squarely on the bickering between the old- and new-school divas, fellow newbie country singer Keith Urban and the contestants were mostly left on the backburner.

And the premiere didn't disappoint, as Minaj and Carey went at it from the moment they sat down, sniping and snapping all through the two hour show as they tried to sometimes turn their attention to the wannabe singers. The good news is that Minaj and Urban both emerged as likeable, relevant judges with lots to say and refreshing ways to say it. And Mariah was mostly just regal Mariah, which is exactly what her Lambs love about her.

MTV News ranks the best (and worst) "Idol" judges in history!

Regardless of what the critics think, though, the "Idol" audience appears to have voted with their remotes on night one. According to Entertainment Weekly, the first night was the lowest-rated and least-watched premiere in the show's history. (The first season is typically not counted in these calculations.) The show was viewed by 17.9 million people, down 19 percent from last year's opening drop, which set the previous low mark after falling off 24 percent from the 2011 season debut.

"Idol" still drew the biggest audience for the premiere of a singing show this season, even as the 22.9 million who tuned in to NCIS on Wednesday night marked the first time another series was seen by more viewers than "Idol" during its premiere week.

It's way too early to predict if the dynamic duo can help turn around the "Idol" ratings slide, but based on the first night, critics said the season already has the potential to be one of the most entertaining in years.

Nicki Minaj

"If Mariah Carey was concerned that Nicki Minaj might show her up, she was right. Minaj ... grabs attention the moment the camera lights come on. She'll be the most polarizing part of the show's 12th season ... The show's long-suffering, more conservative audience may hate her, even to the point of tuning out the show, but the viewers who can see past her outrageous outfits and mood-ring hair color will find a woman who has a very clear vision of what she wants to find in a contestant — as well as a heart full of compassion for the socially awkward people the show attracts. She may take some getting used to, but Minaj has the potential to be the best judge 'Idol' has seen since about two years before Simon Cowell jumped ship." — Brian Mansfield, USA Today

Mariah Carey

"As for Carey, she gave salient advice to delusional auditioners ('you can do this as a hobby') while offering astute observations on vocal tone and delivery. Finally, we have a judge that can speak with conviction about the craft of singing. Hallelujah!" — Michele Amabile Angermiller, Hollywood Reporter

The Other Two

"Because of the editing and the hype, we may never know just how problematic the ladies on the panel are, but Mariah's seemingly overstated antics and Nicki's eye-rolling at least made for compelling (for these two hours, at least) television. As for the gents, Randy Jackson can judge in his sleep ('The vocals, no,' was all he said at one point), and Keith Urban proved to be the cutest thing out of New Zealand since Bilbo Baggins and a complete gentleman throughout. (Lucky he has the accent to keep him from being boring.)" — Natalie Finn, E! Online's

The Final Vote

"Civil certainly wasn't the name of the game. Following a war of British accents, prompted by Minaj talking in one and Carey responding in one mockingly, and deliberation about a 'Mean Girls' quote to which Nicki had apparently responded incorrectly, Minaj left the auditions claiming that she wanted to 'strangle one of the divas on the panel, but I won't tell you who.' She certainly wasn't speaking of Urban, who deserves a raise for being able to sit in between the two during their constant bickering.

Such was the season premiere of 'Idol,' a show that once prided itself on focusing on both the good and the bad of America's talent during its audition rounds. Instead, only a select few full auditions were even shown, with only three falling under the category of laughably bad. This isn't your older brother/sister's 'Idol,' but that was evident in 2012." — Kevin Rutherford, Billboard

What did you think of Wednesday night's premiere? Let us know in comments below!

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