Despite Nicki Minaj vs. Mariah, American Idol has barely changed: stunning

American Idol 12‘s debut last night proved one thing: it will remain fundamentally the same show regardless of its judges or producers, whether there are changes to the structure or not.

Even a somewhat judge-centered episode focusing on Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey and their something-out-of-nothing spats, the show was like always: generally pointless bickering, Randy Jackson inexplicably saying “welcome to Hollywood” to contestants who were permitted to move on to the Hollywood round, et cetera. Oh, and some singing.

About the only significant change seemed to be when an auditioner with an inspiring story–he lost his leg to cancer–and could sing well enough received four no votes.

That does fulfill Nicki Minaj’s promise not to advance people because of their backgrounds alone, but what of the promise that she would help reinvigorate the Fox series?

It’s actually remarkable how little has changed through the succession of judges. Sure, Steven Tyler and J Lo may have been less dynamic a panel than Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, but tonally, the show has never shifted.

That said, the show’s mean streak has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, but last night was somewhat more cruel than last year’s auditions, complete with giving a lot of time and attention to two Asian men who couldn’t sing, because that’s still so funny and not at all racist. (Sigh.)

American Idol 12‘s debut lost about 20 percent of its viewers 18 to 49 compared to last year, but that was less of a slide from the year before, and it still dominated the night with ratings most shows would love. In other words, it’s still working, even if that just means going through the same tired motions.

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