American Idol returned to the air for its 12th season Wednesday night with critics noting that the show's focus was not so much on the new crop of performers but on the three new judges, Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey, and Keith Urban. In the Los Angeles Times, TV critic Mary McNamara remarked that all three judges are in mid-career and probably regard the judging gig as a platform ... to expand their personal brands. Minaj, she writes, with her trademark Land of Oz fashions ... looks like a fully decorated Christmas tree in a forest of poplars, while Carey's attempts to appear regal and vaguely disdainful in the face of Minaj's fast-talking barrage fall almost completely flat. As for the new guy, positioned between them, with his bright blue eyes and Aussie accent, Urban can't help but look good. But Jason Hughes at the Huffington Post wrote that with the two women bickering from the beginning of the show, Urban was almost completely overshadowed by the two women surrounding him. Rodney Ho in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concluded that overall this panel is a bit tougher than past years. They turned away some passable singers, even one that's missing a leg. That would be Evan Ruggiero. Today show blogger Craig Berman said that he appeared to be a shoo-in to make it to Hollywood, except that's not what happened. He got no votes at all -- all four said they were inspired by him, but that doesn't pay for the flight to California. ... Strange. Berman summed up: There was more casual meanness on Wednesday than in years past, in a sneaky kind of way, as if Idol were sending a message to its viewers. And, as anyone reading the comments from viewers on Facebook and Twitter will quickly realize, they can be mighty mean.
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