Why Mariah Carey is a good choice for ‘American Idol’ and why she isn’t

07.23.12 5 years ago 11 Comments

AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

So “American Idol” has nabbed its Christina Aguilera-equivalent. Hang on there,  lambs… I am fully aware that Mariah Carey was a superstar before little Christina was even a Mouseketeer. What I mean is that for a singing competition, “American Idol” sure took a hell of a long time and traveled a most circuitous route before landing an honest-to-God singer for a judge.

Though word leaked out last week that Carey was a serious contender, Fox didn”t confirm the news until today at TCA, allowing Jennifer Lopez to be as coy as she wanted about whether her “99%” decision meant she was going or if it was a negotiating ploy. Looks like Fox ultimately made the decision for her.

Let’s look at the Carey decision a little more closely:


*The star wattage is huge. Carey is the biggest artist to become a judge on a reality talent show yet. She”s sold more than 200 million albums and has scored 18 No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100, second only to the Beatles and ahead of Michael Jackson and Madonna.

*She can really sing. Yes, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler could too, but Carey has a five-octave range that automatically commands respect from any of the contestants. Despite all her other talents, she is first and foremost a singer.

*She knows how to match a voice to a song. She’s written plenty of her hits, but she also has a very clear understanding of what she”s looking for from outside writers or co-writers. Though she won”t be involved in song selection, she will be able to critique the choices well.

*She understands the business. Not only will she be able to advise the contestants on their vocal skills, she is a shrewd businesswoman.

*She”s tough. I remember the first time I interviewed her, I expected someone much more delicate than I got. She is smart and tough and she will tell it like it is. She’ll be able to make the hard calls.

*She spans genres: Though she”s primarily a pop artist, she has worked with a wide variety of R&B and rap artists so she has a broader musical palette than some of the past judges. For example, her new single, “Triumphant,” features Meek Mill and Rick Ross. 


*She”s unproven when it comes to the full rigors of a weekly live show, despite having served as a past “AI” mentor and guest. Carey has been known to, as they say in Hollywood, “suffer from exhaustion” and she”s a night owl, so may be a big adjustment to adhere to such a fixed timetable. However, we”re sure that her husband, “America”s Got Talent” host Nick Cannon, can give her all the advice she needs on dealing with such a heavy schedule.

*She, like Lopez, had the majority of her hits more than a decade ago (although Mimi is, hopefully, far from done adding to her list of Top 10s). At some point, “American Idol” is going to have to bring in a judge who is under 30. The show doesn”t have to go “Disney young” and bring in a Demi Lovato type, but they have yet to have a judge who is a contemporary to the contestants.

*Carey is two decades, several hundred million dollars, and a big old penthouse away from remembering what it was like to launch a career. The audition process is going to be a big old reality check for her to come back down to the ground level and see what nascent talent looks like again.

*As we mentioned, Carey is, first and foremost, a singer. To be effective, she’s going to have to look beyond someone’s technical proficiency and evaluate the overall package. Will she be able to give someone with a quirkier voice, like a Paul McDonald or a Casey Abrams, a shot? She may need to widen her criteria on whether someone should go forward.

How do you think Carey will do? Was she a good choice?

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