Jimmy Iovine's useless expertise and the battle against Randy Jackson's authenticity obsession
Let's just get this out of the way because at this point, the show is in full-on competition mode and these contestants actually kind of matter. Wednesday night's show narrowed the women contestants down to Tina, Kree, Angela, Amber, and Adriana. Thursday night's show gave us these dudes, in the end: Devin, Charlie , Elijah, Curtis, and Paul. Okay, the actually interesting stuff.
You really can't underestimate how important Nicki Minaj is for American Idol, this year. She's the only breathing judge, and just when you you thought that fact couldn't become more palpable, Jimmy Iovine entered the picture. The Interscope honcho is morphing into this figurehead, becoming to Idol (or maybe even the record industry), what Stan Lee is to Marvel Comics: A big deal at some point and still ostensibly involved (he signed Lady Gaga, he “discovered” Eminem) but for the most part, some sort of weird hulking important-for-being-important goofball. When the judges had to go to Iovine to decide whether or not male contestant Paul Jolley, who sang a Keith Urban song (he auditioned with a Rascal Flatt song dedicated to his late grandfather, who served, so he's laying in on pretty thick), Iovine compared it to someone auditioning for Phantom of the Opera with a country song. In short, it was hammy and sort of ridiculous. Like a true spineless Idol judge, he sent Jolley through anyway. Then he went back to being all tan and weird and grinning. This fucking show.
Wednesday night's show though, was a standout for Nicki Minaj. She's interested in well, actually judging the show, which is nice, and she walks an interesting balance between contestant's best friend and their mean-ass teacher. She's painfully aware of coming off down to earth but always official. In Nicki's words, she is a HUMAN BEINGGGGGG. This is the same tension in Beyoncés pop propaganda and lonely laptop wail, Life Is But a Dream. So Nicki told Camp Mariah-goer Tina to change her hair because it was ag[ing] her,” which is something that would've hurt way more from the other judges. She asked the ethnicity of Filipino singer Adriana, breaking her out of that general “Asian” role she occupied simply by existing on the show. She sort of sang “Angie” by the Rolling Stones to singer Angela Miller.
In contrast, there was Randy Jackson, who has a rolodex in his head of painfully rockist things to say and said that Kree, a big-voiced, “modest” singer, was “another natural born singer” and “doesn't have to wear the outfit.” Paging Bob Lefsetz!
There was an actual “wow” moment on the show on Wednesday night, as well. Amber Holcomb (who Nicki called “legs for days” and “pretty lil' dimples”) performed “My Funny Valentine” as if it were an early 2000s spaced-out R&B song, in the mode of Aaliyah or even A Different Me-era Keyshia Cole. She had the chops to sing it, and there was some show-off Mary J. Blige vamping at the end to appease the Randy Jacksons on their couches out there, but it was a stunning moment of restraint and a case for being creative with the safest of cover songs.