11 Things to Expect on ‘American Idol’ Season 12

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American Idol is ready to kick off a new season with new judges, new contestants, and new rules.

Host Ryan Seacrest was joined by veteran judge, Randy Jackson, and the three most recent additions to the Idol family, new judges Keith Urban, Mariah Carey, and Nicki Minaj, for a screening of the Season 12 premiere episode and a fan Q&A on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

It seems FOX may have struck an unlikely high note by placing a country crooner, a bona fide diva, and a larger-than-life rapper at the judges’ table. Aside from the new faces, there’s a new dynamic on the judging panel. Four votes instead of three will make tie breaking tricky, and two divas in one studio has proven to be, shall we say, a delicate situation.

With all the changes happening on the Idol front, some things, like an instigating Seacrest, remain the same.

Here are 11 things you can expect to see when Idol returns next Wednesday.

1. Randy is the new Simon. The veteran judge isn’t pulling any punches. He’ll say what he feels, even if it isn’t nice. “I feel like I’m at a bad auction and Kevin just tried to sell me a bad lawnmower I don’t want,” he said of a less than stellar contestant from Iowa.

2. Nicki is a friendly flirt. Who knew Miss Minaj was such a flirt? Expect to see her getting hot and bothered at the sight of the handsome, hunky male contestants. She’ll also show a softer side when it comes to rejection time, often going out of her way to console weepy rejects before sending them home. She told one especially bad contestant, ”You’re so special. Just not for this competition,” before kissing him on the cheek and making his day.

3. Mariah lives up to her diva rep. Expect to see Mimi a little perturbed when things don’t run smoothly. She admits the journey has been a learning experience and that she has always “worked for herself.” In other words, she doesn’t always play so well with others. But, she’s trying.

4. Inspirational contestants. Ashley Feliciano won the panel over with her story as much as her voice. The 20-year-old from Connecticut auditioned with the support of her heroic family, who adopts special needs children from foster care. Her rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” had the judges seeing stars. Her story almost moved Nicki to tears, prompting her comment, “I’m so inspired by you and so many girls will be too.”

5. Tear-jerking moments. There are always a few sob stories on the Idol stage. But this year, Lazarus Arbos takes the cake. The 21-year-old Cuban immigrant from Naples, Fla. struggles to speak through a serious stutter, but finds his voice while singing. His turn at Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” blew the judges away and will likely melt hearts across the country.

6. William Hung, reloaded. Of course, not all auditions lead to Hollywood, but they’re so fun to watch! This year’s standout will certainly be 15-year-old James Bae of Long Island, N.Y. His try at Justin Bieber’s “One Less Lonely Girl” was equal parts horrific and hilarious. Still, the judges let him down easy with Mariah asking, “Have you considered being a deejay.” After being rejected, he asked Nicki if they could “collide” (instead of “collaborate”).

7. The claws come out. While you may have expected as much after rumblings of an on-going Nicki/Mariah feud permeated the news surrounding this season, the two will definitely have some heated moments on-camera. They bump heads more than once during auditions and still have a long way to go. With Mariah’s notorious diva-like sensibilities, and Nicki’s no-holds-barred approach to… everything… sparks will certainly fly this season.

8. Crazy auditions. From Nicki wannabes to all-out weirdos, this season is sure to deliver some crazy auditions. One standout is Iowa native Kevin Nabiti, who tried to impress the judges with his [dancing?] and quick tongue. He puzzled the panel with his turn at Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” we think.

9. Fiery frontrunners. While some came to play, others came to win. Case in point, 28-year-old Tenna Torres, who wowed the judges with Carole King’s classic, “You’ve Got a Friend.” The Queens, N.Y. native attended Camp Mariah at age 13 and even sang for her as a child. She brought photos of her time there to show her idol and Mariah decided to keep them.

10. Hunky heartthrobs. With two female judges calling the shots, you’re likely to see a few questionable cuties make it through to the Hollywood round. Twenty-two-year-old Griffin Peterson had both ladies swooning after his rendition of “Wash By The Water.” They made sure to overrule Randy’s objections and send the sexy singer through to Hollywood.

11. Keith as a referee. The country crooner will serve double duty as judge and referee between Nicki and Mariah. During the divas’ disagreements, Keith is left in the middle to settle the score more times than not. His weapon of choice? Humor. Minaj revealed that Urban is actually hilarious and that his quick-witted, dry humor has been a welcomed relief from some tense moments on-set.

American Idol returns next Wednesday at 8PM on FOX.

– Cortney Wills

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