This is going to be the season of the reaction shot.
The best part about American Idol's 12th year, at least until the singing gets serious, will be watching Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj respond to each other's nonsense. Carey's going to play to her reputation as a diva, and Minaj is going to roll her eyes. Then Minaj will tuck her hair behind her ear and launch into some excited exposition, and Carey will smile like Minaj is a cute puppy that hasn't been housebroken.
This is a good thing, though. Based on the preview of next week's New York and Chicago audition episodes shown in 11 theaters around the country Wednesday night, every time either of them gets out of hand, a producer will cut to the the other, looking witheringly dismissive. Bottom line: Nobody's going to be able to get away with the kind of prattle we've seen in past seasons.
Even better: All three of the new judges - Minaj, Carey and Keith Urban - are more expressive than the ones they're replacing. Minaj can say as much just by widening her eyes as Simon Cowell could with any of his well-rehearsed barbs.
She's also smart, in a way reminiscent of, believe it or not, Dolly Parton. You can just imagine Minaj saying something like, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap." But, like Parton, she hides a savvy business mind underneath the Barbie-doll makeup and anime-cosplay hair color.
Minaj has the potential to capture the zeitgeist of the Idol voters the way Cowell did more than a decade ago. She understands them - maybe not the show's entire viewership, but the people who will decide this season's winner - and she knows how they think. So when she starts talking about how the girls are going to flip for one of the contestants, pay attention. She may not look like it, but she's the audience.
All the judges can get very specific with their critiques, in very different ways. Carey responds emotionally, but she knows how to talk to singers about singing. Unfortunately, she also hates to let herself get pinned down, and she loves to hear herself talk. So she rambles.
Urban brings a defusing humor to the proceedings that's going to be important, since he sits between Carey and Minaj. As the season progresses, the relationship to watch will be the one between him and Minaj. They clearly enjoy and admire each other.
The first contestant to go viral this year likely will be Lazaro Abros, a Cuban-born singer with a severe stutter. He probably won't last the semifinals, but his back story and his performance of Bridge Over Troubled Water are so moving that his audition clip will spread like wildfire after it airs.
Coming off the successful launch of Phillip Phillips' career, Idol's mantra this season is that the show produces stars. Everybody associated with the show, from Nigel Lythgoe to Jimmy Iovine to all four judges, hammers home that talking point every chance they get. One of the new promotional catchphrases conveys the concept: "Everyone dreams. Idol delivers." Despite all the off-season hoopla about the judges, the show just might make good on that promise.