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American Idol

Mariah Carey is just what 'American Idol' needed: A real singer

With the pop diva officially joining the aging competition, 'Idol' scores itself a wealth of credibility

July 24, 2012|By Gerrick D. Kennedy

Singer Mariah Carey finally validated weeks of rumors that she’d be joining Fox’s long-running "American Idol" talent competition show when she revealed to reporters by speakerphone at the Television Critics Assn. press tour Monday morning that a deal had been finalized.

So what does this mean for the show that has already seen six judges, including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and multitasking pop diva Jennifer Lopez, vacate their posts over the years?   

With Carey aboard, “Idol” scored itself a wealth of credibility for its 12th season, a particular credibility it's lacked from Day 1, by doing something incredibly simple: hiring a singer widely recognized for her singing.

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When “Idol” debuted in 2002, the show cemented itself as a star maker after it crowned Kelly Clarkson its inaugural champ. And throughout its groundbreaking 10-year run, the singing competition has garnered stratospheric ratings and notched many hit songs for its star-studded legion of finalists, including Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Fantasia, Adam Lambert and Jennifer Hudson.

But for a show that’s always been about finding a formidable vocalist, the judging panel has always skimped on offering a true vocalist to offer critique and artist development.

Nearly two years ago when Lopez signed on the dotted line, I analyzed why bringing her to the show was a good thing, which I will still defend.

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Lopez, like the series’ original sole female judge Paula Abdul, brought much-needed pop star pizazz to the series.

Lopez's arrival came at what was then the show’s major tipping point: acid-tongued judge Simon Cowell had exited, ratings had dipped and the show had an incredibly awkward season that brought on comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as a judge and failed to excite viewers.

While Cowell, Kara DioGuardi and Randy Jackson (who co-manages Carey’s career and has long produced and played on her albums) offered the always valuable and appreciated industry perspective that would prepare finalists for the rigors of the music biz, a singing competition needs, well, a real singer.

In defense of Lopez joining the show, I have previously acknowledged she lacked the powerhouse pipes of her peers, something she's never hidden. But her prowess, which has afforded her an impressive chart profile, is that of a total package. That was always Lopez's strength -- she had the catchiest hooks, the edgiest looks and the best videos –- and she offered plenty of solid advice about harnessing that stage presence, often more deftly than her male counterparts.  

But Carey, who has previously been one of the show's great guest mentors and had a week dedicated to her, offers a rarity to these competitions: bringing in a vocal giant with a wealth of experience when it comes to developing both star appeal and technical ability.

This is a combination that NBC’s “The Voice” mastered when its American adaptation tapped Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo Green and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine as judges/mentors. It's a factor that has always stunted “Idol’s” full potential.

Despite "Idol" having proved itself a viable talent seeker, "The Voice,"  which has yet to find a star, is an aspiring singer's dream as it provides a genre-crossing roster of judges, who each bring on another superstar to help mentor contestants.

Sure, "Idol" has always been entertaining, but it's been hard for a lot of viewers to accept folks like Lopez, Abdul and DeGeneres offering vocal criticism.

Carey’s track record outshines that of judges on other panels, including Aguilera and Britney Spears, who will make her judge debut on “Idol’s” competitor, “X Factor,” in the fall.

During her more than 22-year career she’s amassed 18 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, tying Elvis Presley among solo acts and just behind the Beatles, who had 20. With 63 million albums sold she is the No. 3 bestselling female artist in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

While “Idol” helped bring Abdul back in front of the public eye, and gave Lopez's career a boost, Carey isn’t in search of a “big comeback.” That moment came with 2005’s career-resuscitating “The Emancipation of Mimi.”

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