On July 23, "American Idol's" Season 11 contestants returned to Los Angeles for a tour stop at the Nokia Theater, where the most recent "Idol" finale took place just this past May. But obviously, a lot has already changed since May. First of all, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, the "Idol" judges who were a huge part of these contestants' Season 11 journey, recently quit the show. And on the very day of the Idols' Nokia concert, it was announced that Mariah Carey had signed on to judge Season 12. So understandably, the Idols had a lot to say about these major developments.
Speaking about the recent exits of J.Lo and Steven, runner-up Jessica Sanchez said, "I was a little bit shocked. It won't be the same." But the other contestants seemed much less upset.
"I'm kind of a rocker kid, and it's bittersweet to see Steven leave because he was a part of this 'Idol' family, but he belongs singing," said 10th-place finalist Erika Van Pelt. "He doesn't belong behind a table judging people. You can tell--he lights up like a Christmas tree when he's onstage getting to sing. So it's cool. I'm happy for him."
Said sixth-placer Elise Testone, "I understand why they'd want to go after a couple years. For Steven Tyler, I feel like it's not where he's supposed to be." And fifth-place country girl Skylar Laine agreed, saying, "With Steven, it's better for him. He has to be a little bit more reserved on the show, and now he can go out there and focus on his first love, which we all know is Aerosmith. And Jennifer, that girl is a mover and shaker, and she's always on to the next thing, you know? That's just how she's always been, and that's how she's gotten as big as she is. We wish her all the luck on her next venture."
Added seventh-place contestant Colton Dixon, "I found out via Twitter, as I am sure everyone did. I can't say I wasn't surprised, but I understand completely. They still have light-years of career ahead of them. So I don't blame them at all. But they're going to be very hard to replace."
As for the newest official replacement, the contestants for the most part seemed enthusiastic about Mariah. "I think it's good. It's cool to have a change and see different artists and see how they have a different feel," said eighth-placer DeAndre Brackensick. "[Steven and Jennifer] had their time, and we had their time with them, and it won't be the same, but there's other artists out there who can give their knowledge too. Mariah is a great singer, and she knows what she's doing. She's been in the business for, like, ever and a day."
Said Colton: "I'm actually pleasantly surprised [with the Mariah hiring], because I think they could have gone in some crazy directions. There's still an empty slot, so who knows? But with Randy [Jackson] managing Mariah, I think it's going to be a great kind of charisma for the show, just in terms of how they play off each other. I can't wait to see how her judging skills are, because I know she can sing. Everyone knows she can sing. So it's going to be cool to see how she critiques."
Erika enthused, "I grew up listening to Mariah; that's how I sort of developed some of my R&B chops. Mariah's just a diva, and I mean that in the best way possible. She's a powerhouse vocalist, and I feel that her coming on is going to bring a lot of new spunk. It's going to be a different dynamic. Jennifer is great, but Jennifer does it all--heavy into the acting and dancing and all that other stuff. Mariah's a singer, and that is what I feel this competition should always be about, first and foremost."
Ninth-place jokester Heejun Han, however, had some worries about Mimi. "I think Mariah Carey could be a great judge, but my problem with her is since her skill is too much, more than an ordinary singer, nothing's going to satisfy her as a judge," he theorized. "That's my perspective. She'll sing 'aaaaah' and go, 'Why can't YOU do that?' It's definitely going to be a higher standard."
Fourth-place contestant Hollie Cavanagh, a huge Mariah fan, admitted she would have been intimidated to sing for Mariah, if Mariah had been a judge during her season--even though it would have been a fantastic opportunity. "I'm really upset about [Mariah not judging Season 11], because she's like my ultimate idol!" Hollie confessed. "But at the same time, I look at it like, if I had sang in front of her and she would have not liked it, I would have been, like, heartbroken, because I look up to her. She's crazy-amazing. I'm surprised that she's even doing the show. It was a shock to me."
When asked if any Season 11's mentors would be good candidates to fill the other empty seat on "Idol's" judging panel, many of the contestants kept bringing up the same name: Stevie Nicks. "Stevie was by far my favorite. I loved working with her," revealed Colton. "She was so well-prepared, and she knew exactly who we were--in some cases, more than we knew ourselves. It was awesome. Having a judge like that on 'American Idol' is so important. I think Randy does a great job of that, and I think Mariah would do a good job of that as well. But it's just really cool to have someone that you've listened to over the years shed some light on some things that you need to work on, and be positive and know their stuff at the same time."
Season 11 champion Phillip Phillips agreed: "Stevie Nicks is still my favorite. But I don't know if [Fox] wants that, because they haven't had two women on the show [in the three-judge format], really. I would love it if Stevie Nicks was on there. She was honest, and she was probably one of the only mentors who really did her homework and really tried to help us out. If anyone, I'd like it to be her, but we will see."
Erika offered another endorsement. "I love will.i.am. I think he's great," she raved. "He's done 'The Voice U.K.,' so we know he can handle the job. I think he is phenomenal, super-creative, and has a lot a good input...I remember when I first started trying out for 'Idol' and I had newscasters and all these other people judging me, and I was like, 'Can we get someone in here who knows what they're talking about?' I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I don't into an operating room and go, 'Oh yeah, I know all about brain surgery!' and just take the scalpel and start fiddling around. Let's all stick to what we're good at, okay?"
And what about the possibility of straight-shooting "Idol" mentor Jimmy Iovine moving to a full-time judging role--how do the Idols feel about that? Skylar didn't seem too keen on that concept ("I think he would make somebody cry!"), and Colton wasn't sure either, although he saw value in what Jimmy has brought to the show as an advisor. "To me, I think Jimmy already served as a judge in his own way," explained Colton. "He took over the business side of things--like, while this is pleasant to the ear, it might not sell. And that's a good thing to hear as well, because we're not experienced in that...I hope he's still a part of the show, because the kids need that."
However, Phillip was open to the idea, saying, "Jimmy would be an interesting judge. The show would need him. He was honest with people, and that's good."
And what about other possible judges? Elise (presumably jokingly) suggested Chuck Norris, Skylar said either Reba McEntire or Shania Twain, and Heejun said, "Hey, maybe I should do it. It's good money!" So watch this space...