Mariah Carey is the new American Idol judge! Officially! Mariah Carey! I don’t think America can fully appreciate the enormity of this announcement. She is a megastar. Like, a legitimate League of Extraordinary Divas co-founder and lifetime board member. Singer extraordinaire, and songwriter to boot. The type of untouchable legend the likes of which the American Idol judging booth has never known. This is major.
Let’s be clear about one thing: American Idol doesn’t deserve Mariah Carey. At all. It has done nothing and produced no one since at least Carrie Underwood circa 2005 who can even remotely be considered a star. Adam Lambert? Talented? Yes. Do I like him? Yes. But superstar quality? Not quite. Kris Allen? Snore. Lee DeWyze? Who?
Mariah though. Damn. I mean, talk about bringing in a producer’s fantasy. (Sorry. Couldn’t help it.) I don’t care if you’re a fan or not: Her resume is impeccable. The top-charting and top-selling Billboard artist of the 1990s. Over 200 million albums sold worldwide. Five Grammys. A five-octave vocal range. She still holds a 1996 record for most weeks at Number One (16) for “One Sweet Day.” She is second only to the Beatles in Number One hits. After a few years out of the limelight, she came out with one of the most successful comeback albums ever (The Emancipation of Mimi. Do yourself a favor and buy it immediately). Forbes estimates her net worth at $500 million. I could go on and on. Oh, and she’s the singer and songwriter of the single greatest modern Christmas classic of all time.
Also, she’s a goldmine of unscripted antics. Mariah's recent appearances on QVC are the kind of daytime candy you can only pray for. Her MTV Cribs appearance alone, the most watched episode of that show ever, should have netted her a permanent television gig years ago: Mariah gave viewers a tour of her lingerie closet, put on said lingerie and took it off to take a bath, changed outfits approximately five times, did some reps on the StairMaster while wearing a micro-mini and stilettos...the list goes on and on. The woman has a lounge chair in her kitchen, and she owns more Hello Kitty t-shirts than my 8-year-old nieces combined. She spews gems like “There was a time in my life when I only had one pair of shoes. I saved those shoes, but I can’t find them now.” Absolute genius.
But I think the crux of American Idol hiring Mariah Carey now is an acknowledgement that 1) they need help and 2) the Paula Abdul method worked. Remember back when American Idol first debuted in the summer of 2002? Back then, America didn’t know she needed a voted-on pop singing idol – she just walked around buying Destiny's Child and Eminem albums at the FYE at the mall like a fool. Reality shows that involved weekly voting by the people weren’t a thing yet. Back in its infancy, the judge’s table consisted of Simon, Paula and Randy. Randy Jackson (who was not, unfortunately, Michael’s baby brother, but some bassist/record producer who had some credits on songs people had maybe heard of) made his presence known by adding “dawg” to every phrase that came out of his mouth. There was Simon Cowell, who, at the time, no one knew shit about, but he seemed like a good foil to that “You’re the weakest link, goodbye” lady, and America loves a foreigner with an accent who will crush dreams, so he was a win.
And then there was Paula. Everyone loved Paula Abdul. Paula was an absurdly talented little pixie choreographer who had made her bedazzled-blazer mark on pop music and had straight-up won our hearts a decade before this whole judging thing came up. She was the real star on the panel. No wanna-be contestants are going to show up singing Simon or Randy songs – those don't exist. They’re going to sing Paula!
But then, somewhere after years of reality dominance, Paula – sweet, babbling, confusingly complimentary Paula – needed a break, and she left the fold. Simon fumbled and kept adding people to the judge’s table who were not certified pop superstars: Songwriter Kara DioGuardi’s greatest co-contributions are Christina’s “Ain’t No Other Man” and Pink’s “Sober” (both excellent, neither worthy of a judge’s seat); and Ellen DeGeneres, who, as enjoyable as it is to watch her dance, has just as many Top 40 hits as your mom. Then, a breakthrough! Simon gets bored of his own show and leaves to re-launch an American version of his other hit show, the one where the audience votes on the best prospective pop star! (That Simon Cowell: A man of many insults, but few original ideas.)
In the wake of Simon’s absence, Idol had a renaissance. They hired veteran badass rock star Steven Tyler to lend some credibility (what the man lacks in fully functioning brain cells he makes up for in notoriety and hilarious jibber-jabber) and sexy sexypants Jennifer Lopez, who desperately needed a career boost after years of succumbing to husband Marc Anthony’s desexification program, also known as “covering up her assets because J.Lo gets way more attention in public than skeletor does.”
Anyway. Steven started talking to his bandmates again and J.Lo lost the wraith, got her groove back and got herself back on the Billboard charts, so they both decided to hit the road. And then American Idol won the megastar diva lottery and scored Mariah Carey. I don’t know how. A miracle. A goddamned deal-with-the-devil miracle. This is a show that has steadily lost viewership. It fell behind Sunday Night Football this past season. And they just lost their two star judges? Sure, Randy Jackson is still there, but really, has anyone ever really cared what he said? AI was on life support, and Mariah Carey just swooped in with her angelic voice and 7.5 million Twitter “lambs” and saved the day. And honestly? She’s worth every penny of that $18 million they’re giving her.
Mariah Carey isn’t a case of a forgotten star looking for people to remember her greatness. She still has a career; she’s put out three albums in the past four years. “We Belong Together” was named song of the decade by Billboard. She had a whirlwind romance and wedding to Nick Cannon (who, I might note, knows a thing or two about the reality TV game, as he’s been hosting America’s Got Talent for four seasons), and got plenty of tabloid covers based on their relationship, her longest pregnancy ever, and her naming #dembabies Moroccan and Monroe (Note: Go re-watch Cribs if you want some explanation on the names). Then, Mimi and Nick nicknamed the twins Roc and Roe, which 1) Is better than everyone expected (like, say, Sparkle Kitty and Lollipop Discocharm, which seemed like contenders) and 2) I TOTALLY CALLED THOSE NICKNAMES BEFORE THEY MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT. And while odds of her upcoming album and single (conveniently due next month) doing well were already high, history suggests that AI will boost Mariah’s sales figures far more than it will any of the contestants who are vying for votes and contracts. Her judging gig will expand her fanbase while broadening Idol’s. Win win.
And I have no doubt that Mimi will throw some serious shade at anyone who attempts “Hero” or “Fantasy” or thinks they understand the virtues of melisma. She may be sweet as honey, but the woman knows the business, knows the music, and knows when to lay down the law. Pop music critic Sean Daly once described contestants during the early days of Idol as breaking down into three categories: “1) The Talented Kids, 2) The Weird Kids, and 3) The Mariahs.” He noted that, “The Mariahs are the hardest ones to watch, mainly because most of them think they’re reeeaaally good. [They] plant themselves in front of the judges and proceed to stretch, break and mutilate every note of a song, often Mariah’s ‘Hero,’ a tune that has ruined more throats than smoker’s cough.” Word. If your name isn’t Mariah Fucking Carey, you don’t get to sing that song. And she knows it. Do you think she's going to listen to a William Hung butcher her song? No. No she is not. She’s going to own this show. Simon is off crying in a corner because he didn't think of this earlier.