'American Idol' Recap: Nicki Minaj Loves the Guys, Mariah Carey Loves... Mariah Fans (VIDEO)

The men reclaimed the spotlight on Part 2 of the FOX competition's auditions.

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The competition on Part 2 of American Idol's Season 12 Premiere turned fierce for the females and guys are back in the game (as opposed to Day 1 of auditions) on Thursday’s Chicago auditions.

The Windy City lived up to its rep as an Idol gold mine (alums Jennifer Hudson and Hayley Reinhart are natives), with standout singers showing up in spades from minute one.

The surge in viable vocalists brought about a more critical judging panel, forcing judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban, and Randy Jacksonto make some difficult decisions early on.

On this episode, we learned that Keith loves comparisons (“it’s very Aaron Nevill-ey”), Nicki loves to flirt and Mariah loves… Mariah fans. With far less feuding from the ladies, the focus has fallen squarely back on the talent portion of the competition.

Mackenzie Wasner is a 15-year-old from a musical family. Her father has played keyboard for Vince Gill for years, and she’s been singing all her life. From the moment her mouth opens, it’s clear she’ll be a frontrunner. And flashbacks of Season 10 finalist, Lauren Alaina come rushing to the forefront.

“Someone like you walks into a room once every few years,” says Nicki. “That doesn’t even sound like it was in a competition. It sounds like we were listening to your first single. You just blew my mind. You are a star.”

Next came a stellar singer from Chicago. Twenty-one-year-old Kiara Lanier revealed she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Barack Obama before taking her shot at Randy and the rest. She chose Celine Dion’s “The Prayer,” and wowed the judges —literally. Each and every one of them responded with multiple “Wows!”

The competition only gets fiercer from there. Mariah, Randy, and Keith were impressed by 20-year-old, Stephanie Schimel but Nicki was harder to please. “I wasn’t wowed,” she said.

“I thought your voice was pretty. I think you’re pretty, but nothing jumped at me. We’ve seen such magnetic things today. I don’t think you've compared to what we’ve seen.” Still, she’s through to Hollywood.

At 15, Isabelle Parell is bold enough to ask Keith to sing with her for her audition. Singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” her smoky voice is more mature than expected.

“I like your voice. I think it was a good song choice,” offers Mariah. “You have a really nice, humble, adorable quality about you.”

Nicki concurs, “I love your tone and I love your attitude. I feel like you have a thing about you that seems to me like a star.”

More impressive ladies kept coming through, and the list of Hollywood-bound hopefuls kept expanding, with each one’s story more compelling than the last. Mariah Pulice, 19, battled anorexia before music saved her life saying, “If there was no music I would not be alive.” Seventeen-year-old Brandy Neelly was adopted by her aunt after her biological parents gave her away, but received an “A+” from Mariah and the rest of the panel.

Of course, there were some quirky characters; Melissa Bush and her bedazzled pink Elvis suit, for example. There was also Kevin Nabity, 25, one of the weirdos we warned you about in our preview. The Vanilla Ice / Ninja Turtle lover debuted his crazy stick dancing skills for the judges before his pathetic portrayal of Barenaked Ladies’ hit, “One Week,” almost sent them over the edge.

Then there are the truly terrible singers who whole-heartedly believe they are fantastic. Like 19-year-old, Chicago-native Ieisha Cotton and her hack-job of Ashanti’s, “Thank You,” that prompted the judges to keep it real.

“I was going to delicately suggest that perhaps you want to stay more on the dancing thing. But I think you’re very cute,” Mariah reluctantly reveals.

Randy, on the other hand, is more direct in his dream crushing. “Baby you’re tone deaf. Really, you cant even really hear the notes so the singing thing is really not quite your thing. Just being honest.”

What happens when a gag reel goes good, and a contestant who seems like a spoof turns out to be a showstopper? So was the case for 27-year-old Kez Ban, a wandering street performer with a seriously unique androgynous style. The quirky wanderer (with police tape on her boots) shocked the judges by performing an original song. Another early front-runner, she may be this season’s finest water-cooler contestant. Watch her audition again above.

Wednesday night’s kick-off was light on the talent, especially for the male contestants. Thursday’s episode brought the boys back in the game, with many males from Chicago giving great auditions.

This was also Nicki’s breakout as a friendly flirt, as a Minaj montage reel shows her flirting relentlessly with male contestants. Particularly, Griffin Peterson, the 22-year-old hunk who made it to Hollywood despite a disputing Randy. Mariah and Nicki teamed up to get him through while Keith was away at a concert. While the ladies were certainly swooning, some guys got through for their voices. Rough around the edges rocker, Gabe Brown, 21, was one of the few guys to attempt a screech, and this time, it worked.

Curtiss Finch, Jr., 24, got his gospel on in the audition room with “God Is Able.” The judges were impressed before he finished singing, earning a unanimous “yes” from all three. “My friend really loves you and it would change her life to meet you,” he gushed to Mariah before she obliged his request to meet his fanatic friend.

Josh Holiday, 28, is a music teacher from Chicago who gets a golden ticket after his turn at “Knock On Wood.”

Lazarus Arbos, 21, closed the show with the heart-wrenching story of his severe stutter that only ceases to cripple him when he’s singing. Aside from the sob story, his voice is absolutely amazing, and he's easy on the eyes as well, making him a likely frontrunner for the males.

Has FOX finally found the right fusion of star power on the panel and talented, compelling contestants to bring Idol back to its former glory and out of its ratings slump?

-- Cortney Wills

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