In Defense of Nicki Minaj, The Best Thing to Happen to ‘American Idol’ Since Simon

Nicki Minaj is the best American Idol judge

This is a message from the converted: Nicki Minaj is a fantastic American Idol judge. The best. Magnificent. More valuable than she could possibly know.

Yet, if you were speaking to me approximately a week and a half ago, I’d have told you all this Minaj nonsense would be the death of Idol and that her Twitter rants were only the tip of the iceberg. I can say it now: I was so, so wrong. Nicki, I love you.

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The rapper is the youngest member of the judging panel at age 30, and compared to Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, and Keith Urban (who also judged the Australian version of The Voice), her expertise in judging and producing music is far more limited. Of course we were wary when she burst onto the scene with snide looks for Mariah and her never-ending barrage of ridiculous nicknames. (Yes, that pasty, boring kid from Tennessee named Joel should definitely go around calling himself Jumanji.) What is she bringing to the table? And why does she keep calling everyone she likes “a staaaar”? And what possesses her to speak in a British accent randomly? The answers are: She’s bringing Nicki to the table, and she does those things because she’s Nicki-freaking-Minaj and that’s what Nicki-freaking-Minaj does. And it’s great.

Now, naysayers, stay with me for a moment. Since Simon Cowell got tired and tuned out during Season 9 and then left us with the clueless patrol in Seasons 10 and 11 (sorry, Steven and JLo), Idol has lacked that special something. Sure, we’ve fallen in love with contestants (America sure fell hard for Mr. Phillip Phillips), but the judges have simply been there, woken up occasionally by the loud isms and wasms of Steven Tyler and the periodical misunderstandings of the way things like fish work by Randy and his all-powerful Yo pin. We yearned week in and week out for the wise, and sometimes harsh, words of mega-producer and mentor Jimmy Iovine, because our regular panel lacked teeth. With Nicki at the table, that’s not a problem anymore. (But, don’t leave us, Jimmy!) Nicki brings out the harder sides of her fellow judges.

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This year, Randy is far more inclined to tell a contestant, “You’re tone deaf, dawg.” And he actually did. Whereas he would mask his true feelings with niceties in the past, or be buried under Simon’s avalanche of mean on the original panel, Randy gets to throw his 30 years of music biz know-how around. And it’s because Nicki is there. It’s because she fosters an atmosphere in which anything goes, from calling a tone-deaf contestant “boo-boo” and giving him puppy dog eyes, to teasing a young woman for her last name resembling a ladies’ nether regions (ahem, Bush), to telling Mariah “she’s a b***h” within 10 minutes of their first audition session. Nicki is a loose cannon in an ever-changing wardrobe of technicolor dreams. Plus, she is the most entertaining judge we’ve seen on this show since Simon.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the girl is Simon. She consistently favors contestants’ looks, style, and general air of awesomeness over their talent and you can see her fighting to enjoy a country singer, no matter how close their voices come to making angels weep tears of joy. If she hates your voice, she’ll find something nice to say about you or a complete non-sequitur to soften the blow. She’s not going to tell someone where their technical flaws lie and she’s not about to tell anyone they’re “delusional” (one of Simon’s favorite words). She’s not in charge, but she’s the inadvertent taste-maker. She’s the new judge to love, hate, and obsess over. She’s the one we’re here to see. Why else would the panel have a fourth judge? Nicki is the ace in the hole.

Wednesday night’s walkout incident was only further ammunition for why: She’s an atypical judge and she knows it. The fight that stopped the Charlotte auditions was initiated because Nicki felt marginalized. She felt like her vision for contestants was at odds with Randy’s and Mariah’s vision, and when Randy threw out his “30 years of experience” as justification, Nicki didn’t fire back with some overconfident remark. She was legitimately hurt: She’s the outsider, and Randy’s retort shook her confidence, so she retreated to lick her wounds. Nicki doesn’t have the upper hand. She’s the newcomer, the underdog, and very often the black sheep. How could you not love her? She’s doing everything she can to make her mark, and she’s doing so by being her outrageous, weird self. In what other year would someone like Chicago’s androgynous Kez Ban be so heralded? When else would we spend so much time getting to know an outrageous attention hog with a collection of blonde and pink wigs like Ashley Smith from Charlotte? Only during the reign of Nicki.

Let’s face it. We’re in the era of the new American Idol and the new Idol is Nicki.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: Fox]

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