17 January 2013 5:52 AM, PST | The Backlot | See recent The Backlot news »

The ingenious thing about American Idol is obvious: Every season is a fresh start. If you love a season, you're glued to your seat. If you hate a season, you're even more excited for the next. It doesn't matter whether Simon Cowell, Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler, or Kara DioGuardi's mute aunt from Sioux City is on the judging panel; the stars of this juggernaut are the contestants, and the judges are merely carnival barkers and curators who instruct us where to fix our gaze and hurl our texts.

Season 12 marks one of the show's freshest starts: New judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban value different and more distinct skills than their forebears Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, and I'm torqued about it. Tyler and J-Lo were content to sit in awe of maudlin acts and proclaim most renditions "beautiful." On Wednesday's premiere, Nicki Minaj winced from beneath »

- virtel

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