'Idol' in Charlotte: Audition fires, misfires, and the infamous panel crash

Norman Byrd's picture

The panel blow-up in Charlotte between "American Idol" judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey was just the inevitable coming to pass, but was it a sign of things to come?

Viewers have sat through a few hours of diva cattiness and not-so-subtly traded barbs from new "American Idol" judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj for several hours of Season 12 auditions already and even if Judge Nicki's over-the-top tantrum had not made tabloid headlines around the world, it would have taken the most obtuse person on said planet to have missed the forewarning signs. Still, it came Wednesday evening (Jan. 23), it went, and "Idol" rolled on, like a race that endures a massive pile-up within its run. Speaking of which, auditions had moved on to Charlotte, North Carolina, home of one of NASCAR's biggest annual racing events. After host Ryan Seacrest left a little rubber on the track at show's start, he and Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery introduced the third episode of auditions. And they were off...

In any good race, as long as support and fuel are readily available, the vehicle needs two things to get started on that trip to the finish line: a good engine and competent driver. Charlotte's own Naomi Morris had no problem displaying her vehicle and its double-D chassis but the engine sounded a bit rough, nor could the driver do much with it. It's tough to win a race when you can't even finish the first lap, so...

Then there was Joel Neimeyer, who decided that lying down and singing was the way to go. The judges black flagged him and decided he, too, should leave the race.

So what started off as a rough day at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ended as one as well -- at least for the judges. All the snide remarks, the petty swipes, and Mariah Carey's mostly subvocalized (not picked up by microphones) jibes finally got to the very outspoken rapper on the panel. As the world knows -- and the video evidence attests -- Minaj ended the first day in Charlotte by storming off the panel after going a couple verbal rounds with Carey and calling the pop icon "her f*****g highness."

The unfortunate contestant that was caught on stage during the crossfire and crosstalk was Summer Cunningham. Still, Summer got a gold ticket to Hollywood. And MInaj? She was back at her judging job the next day like nothing occurred, the living embodiment of "the show must go on."

But first, some backtracking. On the first day, it took another Georgia boy (like last year's winner, Phillip Phillips), to set the pace. Brian Rittenberry nailed the Beatles' "Let It Be" and the auditions moved on to smoother roads, engines firing up all down through the day.

Jimmy Smith made it to Hollywood via "Bless This Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts. (He hadn't sung a note when he told Judge Urban he was one of his influences and the judge told him he was through to Hollywood...) He was quickly followed by Sarina-Joi Crowe, Haley Katherine Davis and Na'Chelle Fullins-Lovell. The night's surprise nominee (where a friend or family member nominated a potential contestant online without the singer's knowledge) came out of Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta. Judge Randy Jackson surprised Isabella Gonzalez at school to give her an audition ticket. She performed Sam Cooke's "Nothing Could Ever Change This Love" and the old school soul classic got her a gold ticket out West.

There were also a few split votes (something that contributed greatly to the Carey-Minaj flare-up), like the decision to send Taisha Bethea to Hollywood. Judge Keith Urban cast the deciding vote but not before opinions flew. Those opinions got even more heated when Summer Cunningham took the stage next. Judge Minaj ended the day's taping by abruptly walking off stage after cussing Judge Carey out.

Still, the second day started with a hometown girl, one Brandy Hamilton, who told the judges panel that their fighting the day before had made her a bit sad. The judges appeared contrite. They also gave Brandy a gold ticket for her excellent rendition of Etta James' "All I Could Do Is Cry."

Some contestants made it through with nods to "Idol," like the oddly flamboyant Ashley Smith, who sang Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova." Later, Janelle Arthur got on Judge Urban's good side with "Where The Blacktop Ends" and got a unanimous round of yeses from the panel.

After what seemed like a neverending series of "no," Urban got to toss out a "yes" before leaving for New York to watch his wife (actress Nicole Kidman) accept an award at the New York Film Festival. Rodney Barber, also a Charlotte native, also provided the judges with one of Season 12's more inspirational stories. Barber was homeless and decided that living on the streets could be turned to an advantage. He started singing. Self-dubbed "the Voice of Charlotte," Barber's version of Edwin McCain's "I'll Be" also got him out of Charlotte.

Day two in the southern city takes on a "second chance" theme (what with the Carey-Minaj feud and the streets-to-Hollywood stories) as viewers are treated to a reappearance of Candice Glover, a 22-year-old who auditioned in Season 11 and made it to Vegas Week. She performed Duffy's "Syrup and Honey" and was told by Judge Jackson that it was the "best audition I heard so far this season." Judge Minaj, however, went the way of wacky (which she does on occasion) and invoked Buffalo Bill from the Thomas Harris classic, The Silence of the Lambs, with an odd and totally macabre line about wanting to "skin and wear" young Candice. Regardless, viewers no doubt recognized the metaphor when they heard it (and understood it to mean that she would like to experience singing the way Candice seemed to be experiencing the process).

And then there was 26-year-old Serena Guinn, a young mom who just wanted her year of troubles to come to an end. And she might have taken the road less traveled, the one that took a bit of courage to explore, but it could make all the difference, because she got herself a ticket to the Left Coast.

Charlotte had some real winners -- the racing city produced 37 contestants with good engines and competent drivers worthy of Hollywood gold tickets, so all wasn't just burnout and smoke.

And Judges Minaj and Carey got through the wreckage of a personality pile-up and did what any professional would do -- they moved on. Whether that means there won't be a second flare-up -- especially come the live episodes -- remains to be seen.

Next up: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of the Dawg himself, Mr. Randy Jackson. "American Idol" returns to the air on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.

Take Home Message: We all have good days and bad days. We also are not going to get along with everyone we meet and/or work with, no matter how hard we try (or don't, as seems to be the case with Minaj and Carey). However, the right thing to do is to work around the petty animosities and personal discord. Compromise, do a little give and take, and you come out on the other side having accomplished your goal, whether it is to end the workday satisfactorily, see a job through, or to build a stronger and mutually respectful relationship. And even if all differences cannot be negotiated, they can be placed on standby. Anger and belligerence are counterproductive, both on a personal and an interpersonal level, generally causing far more friction than is merited. And in a professional setting, they should either be set aside or extinguished. This can only be done if the contesting parties are willing, however, and continual puerile bickering without addressing the underlying problems only leads to increased tension and potential trouble. Carey and Minaj's constant eye-rolling and sniping has only led to obnoxious outbursts and unprofessional behavior -- certainly behavior they undoubtedly would not want to see emulated by their fans.

(photo credit: American Idol, Fremantle North America, Fox Television)

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