'American Idol' announces judges: Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj confirmed

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Image Credit: WireImage.com

It’s official: American Idol is adding new judges from the worlds of country music and hip hop.

Fox announced Sunday that 44-year-old Aussie singer Keith Urban and colorful 29-year-old rapper Nicki Minaj will sit with pop diva Mariah Carey at the season 12 judges table of the reality hit, along with returning judge Randy Jackson. The confirmation settles months of behind-the-scenes reports and speculation about the show’s panel that saw singers such as Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Nick Jonas, Adam Lambert and Kanye West floated as possible judges.

“Nicki’s an unbelievably captivating international phenomenon who has made an indelible mark on rap and pop,” said Fox’s president of alternative Mike Darnell in a statement. “And Keith is another great addition to Idol – he’s one of the biggest stars in country music and I know that our fans and contestants will fall in love with him. With an unparalleled star like Mariah, fan-favorite Randy, chart-toppers like Nicki and Keith and our incomparable host Ryan [Seacrest], we’ve put together one of the most exciting judging panels around.”

Earlier this summer, Fox announced the exit of Idol season 10 and 11 judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, along with the hiring of Carey. The network then strongly considered shifting Jackson to a mentor role. After quietly selecting Minaj and Urban for slots, Fox recently made an offer to Latin singer-songwriter Enrique Iglesias to fill a fourth spot, but those talks broke down last week. In addition to Carey receiving about $17 million for her role on the show, we’re hearing Urban will pull down about $4 million. According to one report, Minaj will earn around $8 million.

The network hopes the new hires will boost the ratings of the aging series — or at least stabilize its declines. Though Idol remains TV’s top entertainment series, the show suffered a record year-over-year ratings drop last season. Part of the problem is the marketplace has become more crowded with singing competition shows like NBC’s The Voice and Fox’s own X Factor.

The announcement also confirms Idol will return to a four-judge format that the show previously used in its eighth and ninth seasons. Idol switched back to three judges after some felt the show was spending too much time showcasing the judges’ opinions rather than the contestants’ performances. But hot rival The Voice has managed to function just fine with four judges, and X Factor has employed a judging quartet as well.

One question is whether the addition of Minaj and Urban will result in a greater diversity of singers going to Hollywood, or just give the panel some fresh perspective. Though Idol‘s most successful graduate, Carrie Underwood, is a country artist, and the show has had several rock and country contestants over the years, Idol is best known for celebrating pop music (the show is based on the British series Pop Idol). Rap music has been practically nonexistent on the show.

American Idol returns to Fox in January.

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