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'American Idol' Recap: What Made Nicki Minaj Walk Out in Charlotte?

By Kelsea Stahler, Hollywood.com Staff

Welcome to Charlotte, North Carolina, the secret race car capital of the U.S. and the home of the constructive communication meltdown. Yep, you read that right.

From minute one of the Charlotte episode, it would seem that the producers of American Idol are brushing up on their storytelling techniques. Starting the episode in media res, or in the middle of things a knock-down dragout fight so big, they had to bring the guys from TMZ in to explain it is our introduction to our first stop in the Southern U.S. We don't immediately find out what made Nigel Lythgoe come through the set waving his arms and commanding everyone to go home, but we soon will... dunh dunh dunh.

Luckily for you, I'm not a fan of saving the good stuff for chronological order, so let's talk about this meltdown, shall we? Sure, North Carolina is home to a lot of Idol winners like Scotty McCreery and Fantasia Barrino, so we should probably on the lookout for the person who could take it all this year, but that fight! It's commanding my brain and no amount of Scotty waltzing around the racetrack in Charlotte, running into long-lost middle school friends, can distract me.

The day starts off as cheerful as can be, and Keith in particular is happy and chipper, goofing around with Nicki before delivering the kiss of death to the panel. ""This is going to be good,"" he says. Yeah, good for us at home, not so good for y'all, Keith. After lunch, the judges are all a little testy, even Keith who's apparently tired of being dismissed as just ""the country guy."" When sweet blondie Summer Cunningham is dumb enough to disparage country in front of Keith, saying she's ""done the country thing"" and she's now seeking ""something with a little more soul."" Big mistake, little lady. But at the same time, who'd have thought it would be Keith's ego that set this whole thing in motion? It is, and Keith is instantly annoyed, likening the girl's innocent, yet flippant commentary to a professional insult. ""It's like saying I did the brain surgeon thing,"" he says. Whoa, Keith. We get it, Country music is an intricate profession that requires hard work and dedication. It's not brain surgery though, my friend, no matter which way you angle the scalpel.

That's where Mariah and Randy come in, helping to ease the tension by helping young Summer, who sang ""Lean on Me"" with an unmistakable country music staple: the (young) LeAnn Rimes yodel. (That age distinction is essential. Have you seen that woman's Twitter lately?) They give the girl a ""yes"" and send her through to Hollywood on what seems like the condition that she not fight her natural knack for country and stop trying to become the next Adele. Why else would she sing so country and still insist she's more ""soul""? We can hear you, lady, and you're no soul singer.

Randy and Mariah do their best to mentor this little lady, but it doesn't sit right with Nicki, who's tired of all this country music talk. If it's not about Taylor Swift loving ""Super Bass"" it's not for her, and she sits in her corner of the panel like a petulant, sleepy child until Mariah asks her to speak. ""I didn't know we needed to have a country debate,"" she says. Nicki is miffed that her fellow judges (but ""not you, Keith"") are ""picking apart"" contestants and telling them what they'd be best suited for when she'd rather let love rule and have everyone do whatever they want in a creative free-for-all, which is nice in theory, but not in practice. Randy, who's been in the business for 30 years and makes a point of reminding Nicki of that, knows a thing or two about coaxing a good artist onto the right path. But it's that ""30 years"" comment that sends Nicki, the youngest voice on the panel, into a fit. It's the last straw and her apparently fragile ego is crushed, shutting down production for the day and leaving a crowd of confused auditioners like refugees in the bowels of the racetrack facilties.

This is the Idol the episode seems to want us to believe we've signed up for. But it's only a fraction of what the new panel has to offer, and frankly, it only adds to their effectiveness as an entertaining, yet informative entitity.

Immediately after the meltdown, we return and we're suddenly in a TMZ-sponsored zombie movie/breakup video about how production shut down. Yeah, we got that. Drama, drama, drama. But when we finally return to the contestants and meet Navy Reserve member Brandy Hamilton , a sweet little singer who lights up the room and has what Mariah calls ""pippity pow,"" she leaves the room with her ticket to Hollywood, saying ""Please don't fight, it makes me sad."" It touches Nicki and has an almost cleansing effect; and for the rest of the episode, the judges just work, so well in fact, that I might even be willing to use the words ""adorable"" and ""Nicki Minaj"" in the same sentence. Mariah even starts making an effort to make sure Nicki knows any insult thrown at a contestant's hat doesn't pertain to Nicki's glorious collection. It's almost like magic.

But things weren't even all that bad before the cleansing fight. Well, they weren't bad on the judges' side of the table. Keith and Nicki were sharing trail mix like two best friends on their first school field trip to the Natural History Museum, but the producers brought on the gauntlet of weirdos. That's a surefire way to may anyone a little grumpy.

First up is Naomi Morris, a fashionista from Charlotte who makes her own clothes. She's wearing a spiky bra under a blazer like a Mad Max character on a job interview, but Nicki loves it and gives her a nickname: ""Omi."" It's a good thing the only binding thing about these meetings is that three ""yeses"" equal a ticket to Hollywood, because Nicki's nicknames aren't exactly star-makers. Surprise, surprise, Omi can't really carry a tune. The great thing about the way the judges react is that while Nicki feigns sickness and Mariah can't even look at the girl, once they recover, they're actually quite sweet, making sure to praise her for what she's doing right: designing her own clothes. The moment's overshadowed a tad by Mariah's comment that Omi's spiky gold bra wouldn't fit Nicki, but it's there. These judges are good value.

Moving right along, we meet Joel Nemoyer, a 20-year-old who likes to sing while laying down, a technique he learned by watching Chris Daughtry that one time during a mentoring session on Idol. Of course he's awful, but at least he got that controversial viewpoint out there: yep, Nicki looks like cotton candy with her pink hair piled on top of her head. Move along now.

A brief respite comes courtesy of Brian Rittenberry a 27-year-old from Georgia who's married to a cancer survivor, who happens to be the cutest Keith Urban fan there is. While Brian makes his wife's case to the country singer, Ryan Seacrest is outside asking her about her ""hall pass situation"" with Keith. Don't worry, it's cute. Just trust me on that. Ryan brings her into the room as Brian finishes singing ""Let it Be"" and earns four ""yeses,"" and the moment is somehow not all that obnoxious. It's quick, and Mrs. Brian isn't screaming or losing her mind in order to get 15 seconds on television. She's just sweet and grateful and super proud of her sweet, singing husband. Okay, she's also pretty stoked about getting to hug Keith. That too. This is how an Idol sob story should work.

Next: Is that Brad Paisley? (Don't bet on it)

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: Fox]

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[PAGEBREAK]The good fortune continues with four more Hollywood-bound singers, including Michelle Fullins Lovell, who doesn't get to speak on television, but wows the judges with her Mariah-level falsetto range, and Jimmy Smith, a 25-year-old social worker who's so good at singing Rascal Flatts songs, he makes Randy remember history in a whole new light. (Randy, I get that you're super excited, but check these famous quotes before you use them. ""Let them eat cake"" does not mean, ""Go have fun in Hollywood, you guys!"")

But all good things must be interrupted by a little crazy laughter from time to time, so we meet Matthew Muse, whose main talent is immitating Brad Paisley... if Brad Paisley were an animatronic prospector at an Old West musical review. No, he's not a good singer. But hey, at least Nicki thinks he looks like a model. That's got to be worth nothing at all.

Again, the surprise audition strikes, this time with a more climactic ending (if you're going to pick someone up at home and make them audition, you'd better plan on sending them through.) So, the Dawg gets on a school bus to pick up 16-year-old Isabelle Gonzalez at high school. She's got crazy good style for a high school student and sings Sam Cooke's ""Nothing Can Change This Love"" with a sweet, jazzy voice that could use a little coaching, but she's got the raw goods and she's adorable. Naturally, she's going to Hollywood.

Next comes a sassy girl who divides the judges right down the middle, which in Charlotte means giving all the power to Keith Urban. With her band, a buncha cute hipster dudes who call themselves Carson, in tow, Taisha Bethea sings ""Fulsum Prison Blues"" by Johnny Cash and ""You Oughta Know"" by Alanis Morissette, but she can't convince the Randy and Mariah, who see her has a band frontman and nothing more. Keith and Nicki send her through, but these nice judges have to know that girl is going to get eaten alive during Hollywood week.

And the person who's going to gobble her up might be Ashley Smith, the most annoying human in the whole wide world. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but she's certainly trying for the title. She's abnormally away of her need for attention, and shows up wearing a pink pilgrim shirt, a septum piercing, hipster glasses, a blonde wig (it'll be pink in Hollywood, we're told), and white lipstick. And damnit, she's mind-bogglingly good when she belts out Carrie Underwood's ""Cowboy Casanova"" This means we have to see more of her. Let's hope this nonsense is just for auditions, because I don't know if I can handle two people with whatever affliction Nicki has that makes her slip in and out of a British accent. It seems she's here to stay, but we'll see how things go in Hollywood.

Before Keith has to leave (again, this time to hold Nicole Kidman's hand at the New York Film Festival... whipped!) we meet two good'uns. First, Janelle Arthur who sings ""Where the Blacktop Ends"" and is actually phenomenal. Keith is beside himself because she is so perfectly country and it helps that her song choice is apparently one of his favorites. Nicki says she already seems like a star ""which is really hard to come by"" (you wouldn't know it based on the rate she hands that compliment out, but it works this time). Janelle goes to Hollywood, and Keith squeezes in one more audition that will melt your heart, even if it doesn't mean the guy has any shot at the competition. Rodney Barber used to be homeless, and now he shares his earnings from being a street performer with Charlotte's homeless as a way of paying it forward. The man is sweet and his story is touching, but he's just an okay singer. He tries on ""I'll Be"" by Edwin McCain, and it's nice. He's got a strong voice, but it feels a little plain to bring him through the Hollywood gauntlet. He's a sweet guy, so I hope I'm wrong, but it doesn't look like a sure thing from here.

But then, once Keith leaves to hold hands instead of doing his job (seriously, what is the deal, Keith?), Candice Glover, who was cut in Las Vegas during Season 11 has returned and she's more amazing than we could possibly have remembered. It's funny that she says people compare her to Season 10's Joshua Ledet, because she's clearly got her own sound, but after she sings ""Syrup and Honey"" (the Season 9 Idol audition special) the judges give her a standing ovation - Josh's specialty. Nicki says she wants to wear Candice's skin, which is her way of saying she's going to Hollywood. We're fans of the traditional form of communication on this one, but hey, she's just being Nicki and it's so genuine it's almost cute. Almost. We are talking about wearing human skin, here.

In what might be be the best alternative to a sad back story ever, La'Bria Barber shares her all-time favorite hobby: Froggigging or catching frogs for fun and fries up the legs as snacks. Oh, those crazy kids, sneaking out at night, listening to their devil's music and bopping frogs on the head? Apparently. After airing their concerns about La'Bria being wasteful by only eating the frog legs, the 16-year-old shows off her incredible voice, which sounds like it belongs on a seasoned jazz singer three times her age. She's so good, her rendition of ""Pride and Joy"" makes Randy dance back and forth like a Charlie Brown cohort. We'll see this girl in Hollywood, and hopefully on the Idol stage.

After a quick pit-stop with the artist formerly known as Ba-con (pronounced like Akon) and the most boring, sad version of ""A Whole New World"" I've ever heard, we get our inspirational story of the week: Seretha Guinn. The young lady has a boyfriend who endured a life-threatening ""incident."" She's apparently sneaked out to audition for the show, which is why she had to bring their daughter London into the audition to meet her best friend, Nicki Minaj a.k.a. Dun Dun. By all rights, I should have hated every second of this pandering-fest, but it worked. Everything from her singing-songy version of ""Fresh Prince of Bel Air"" to introducing Nicki to her biggest little fan was undeniably adorable. And thus, the episode that started with a TMZ scandal ends its two-hour episode with a genuinely happy, heart-warming moment. This is American Idol. The fighting just puts the rear ends in the seats.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: Fox]

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'American Idol' Recap: They Love You, They Love You Not

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