Nicki Minaj: Idol Talk

By Jase Peeples

Originally published on Advocate.com March 28 2013 8:00 AM ET

From her signature blend of rapid-fire rap mixed with cutting-edge pop to her affinity for colorful wigs and outrageous outfits, no one could accuse Nicki Minaj of failing to express herself. Whether she’s pretending to come out as a Republican or admitting she wasn’t exactly honest when she claimed to be bisexual, Minaj isn’t an artist who fears being caught in the crosshairs of controversy.

In fact, the self-proclaimed “baddest bitch” is clearly as confident on stage as she is criticizing President Obama on Twitter or cat fighting on camera with Mariah Carey. Nevertheless, it’s that level of confidence that makes Minaj an enthralling addition to the Season 12 American Idol judging panel – an artist who isn’t afraid to disagree with popular opinion or give candid critiques in the search for the reality completion’s next champion.

Minaj took a moment to speak with The Advocate about her experience on the show, her favorite gay contestant, and who she thinks will claim the crown.

The Advocate: Being a judge on American Idol has given you an opportunity to show a different side of yourself. Are you happy with how that’s turned out so far?
Nicki Minaj: I’m just happy that the Idol producers gave me a shot on the show for me to be able to show who I really am because I feel like I’m every single woman.  I really, really don’t think outside of maybe some pink wigs that there’s anything that separates me from every other woman in America, so I’m just happy that I was given the opportunity.  Some people don’t get an opportunity to show the world who they really are.  Some people come out and put an album out and people just never talk about them again, but I was given an opportunity to show who I am as a human being and I really appreciate that.

Of the out gay contestants that have been on American Idol this season, which one has been your favorite?
Papa Peachez is the one that was probably the dearest to my heart only because I felt that he was such a super star, but I don’t think he really knew that yet.  Whenever I meet someone where I feel like they don’t really know their own worth it kind of bothers me.  I just thought he was so exciting like I wanted to just see him perform his original music every week, but unfortunately as soon as he didn’t perform the original music he kind of got overshadowed by all the other big singers. 

Who do you see as the frontrunners this point in the competition?
I would say Kree, Angie, and Candice. I think they’ve won people over already. That’s evident in what I see on Twitter with my fans.  You know those three singers have really, really made an impact not only with just a great voice that sounds like it should already be making albums but for some reason their personality seems to [click with] a lot of fans.

In addition to critiquing contestants on their performance, you often critique them on their look as well. Do you feel that’s equally important in a competition like this?
I think so.  I mean, I don’t think that ultimately it will have anything to do with them winning because I feel like the Idol viewers aren’t biased when it comes to [a contestant’s] look.  But I think that when you go out into the real world as an artist you may want to think about it.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking about how you want to look, how you want to present yourself to the world.

Your judging style has been called everything from blunt to polarizing. Was it your intention to be seen as a tough judge or are you simply being yourself?
I am absolutely just being me.  I didn’t know what to expect going in to the show.  I was so nervous.  I had a lot of anxiety.  I felt like, “OK.  I know everybody’s just going to hate me.  Oh well.”  There were moments in the audition process that I would say to the producers, “I can’t do this anymore because if everyone is going to give good critic and I’m going to be the only one being honest then America is going to hate me.  I’m going to be seen as mean.”  And the producers said, “Nicki, trust me America is going to appreciate the honesty” and I come in every day and I’m myself. When I’m laughing on the show I’m genuinely laughing.  I can’t come up there and pretend.  I just can’t do it.  I can’t be someone I’m not.  I can’t sit there with a phony smile on my face; I can’t do it.  I’m happy that people are responding well to it.  I mean if I’m polarizing, I’m polarizing.  I don’t know, but I definitely didn’t have a preconceived notion of who I was going to be on that panel.

Now that there are fewer people left in the competition, is it getting more difficult to balance honest criticism with your own feelings about the contestants?
I don’t really think about balancing anything.  I just react.  This last week I felt like I sympathized with Lazaro and that’s just where my heart went.  With Paul Jolley I felt like “you’re time is up.”  But even when I’m saying, “Your time is up” or “That was a bad performance” I still care about these people. I never try to hurt them at all, but I just say what I really feel. Now that we’re down to the very best of the best, I’ve been trying to say things in a way that won’t discourage, but help them continue to shine. I know this is their moment and that one of these people will be the next American Idol. In the beginning I gave blunt [critiques], but now – because we’ve gotten so close to them – I say it in a way [to help] them  fix it for next week so that they can actually stay in the competition and get votes as opposed to me speaking to them as if I have 100 more people to see.