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The Top 10 Scandals, Surprises, and Shockers Of ‘American Idol’ Season 12

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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photo: Fox

While the 12th season of "American Idol" certainly had its share of amazing musical performances, the focus this season was often not on the talented contestants themselves, but on scandals, shockers, and controversies. From the judges' petty infighting, to endless industry gossip, to epic Twitter rants, "Idol" brought the drama week after week.

Unfortunately, "Idol" didn't bring in the ratings week after week. Over the course of Season 12, the once-unstoppable reality franchise plummeted from its usual spot as the number-one talent show on television to third place in that category, behind "The Voice" and "Dancing With the Stars." Each week of Season 12, "Idol" sank to a new ratings low--hitting rock-bottom the week of May 1, when the series aired its lowest-rated performance show ever that Wednesday, then experienced its all-time lowest ratings on the following night's results show.

Apparently fans of feuding and catfighting would rather tune in to the "Real Housewives" or "Bad Girls' Club" than "Idol." But for those of you who enjoyed the show's silly drama--or who missed it, because you were one of the 4 million or so viewers who stopped watching "Idol" this year--here are the top 10 most shocking, scandalous moments of Season 12.

10) Nicki Minaj is Tardy for the Party
On "Idol's" top 10 night, Nicki was an astounding 13 minutes late to the live taping, and she missed the show's opening (and the performance by her favorite male contestant, Curtis Finch Jr.) entirely. When she finally did show up (after dealing with "some congestion on the 405," according to Ryan Seacrest), the "Super Bass" rapper wasn't looking like her usual superfly self, dressed down in a hoodie and shades. This was just one of Nicki's many headline-making antics this season, but since no other judge was ever late for a live broadcast in "Idol's" 12-year history, this incident makes the list.

9) Matt Farmer Lies About His Military Injury
Matt had what seemed like a compelling sob story: He said he'd sustained a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, and that the medication he was subsequently prescribed was supposed to render him sterile, thus making his adorable daughter (who accompanied him to his audition) a miracle baby. But only one day after Matt's moving audition aired, Guardian of Valor, a website that seeks to "out people who falsely claim military service and/or claim unauthorized medals or tabs," reported that that Matt's story wasn't quite holding up, quoting many soldiers who had allegedly served with Matt and refuted his claims. Matt eventually confessed that he had indeed lied to "Idol's" producers about his backstory, and he was never seen on the show again.

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8) JDA Bends Genders, Minds
When androgynous makeup salesman Josh "JDA" Davila performed Adele's "Rumour Has It" during Vegas Week, it was THE wildest, wackiest live-show "Idol" performance since Norman Gentle's "And I Am Telling You" in Season 8. Dressed in spike heels, a backless leather harness top, and some sort of fortune-teller gypsy skort, JDA the gender-bender pranced out ready to "star in his own movie," and it was certainly a pass-the-popcorn moment. I actually wish the judges had put him through to the top 20. In a season full of bland balladry and forgettably fodderific male contestants, JDA would have at least kept things interesting.

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7) Charlie Askew Has Some "Mama" Drama
When this quirky, jazz-handy ginger performed in top 20 week, he eschewed his cutesy "little brother" image for something a little darker and rockier, belting Genesis's broody, moody "Mama." It was a fascinating but polarizing performance, and the judges did NOT get it at all. When Ryan asked Charlie why he'd given such a sinister performance of such a strange song, Charlie answered, visibly trembling: "All I can say is, I needed to vent a little bit. A lot of people think I'm a very happy, buoyant person, and the only reason I smile so much is because I feel like I have to." And then he almost started to cry, and the mood in the theater grew dark. But, as uncomfortable as this was, it was as real and raw a moment as "Idol" got this year.

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6) Zoanette Johnson Makes the Top 20
At her Oklahoma City audition, this wild-eyed woman performed the most wackadoodle rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" since Roseanne Barr's. And she somehow made it through to Hollywood. Then in Hollywood Week, when it was her time to perform solo, she played a jazz-funk improv that basically consisted of her primal-screaming while she banged on a drum kit. And she somehow made it to the top 40. Then, in Vegas, she pounded tribal drums to Elton John's "Circle of Life" while wearing a wig that even Nicki would think was too over-the-top. And she somehow made it to the top 20. Yes, somewhere behind Zoanette's Merle Norman warpaint, Pointer Sisters hair, and Mack Truck-sized personality there was some actual raw talent…but when Zoanette facepalmingly forgot almost all of the words to her Tina Turner song in "Idol's" top 20 week, it became apparent that she shouldn't have made it to the live shows.

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5) Lazaro Arbos Will. Not. Go. Away.
Lovable stutterer Lazaro started off this season as America's sweetheart, but he ended it as America's punching bag, after he overstayed his welcome and outlasted many other superior singers. He constantly forgot his words, had no familiarity with the concept of a key change, and his "Close to You" just may have been the worst "Idol" performance of all time. (Sanjaya Malakar, Kristy Lee Cook, all is forgiven.) Of course, the judges and producers were as much to blame as the people who kept voting for Lazaro, since they were the ones who blatantly pimped his sad stuttering backstory to draw in emotionally invested viewers, then advanced him to the top 20 so that those sympathetic viewers could vote for him…and then went ludicrously easy on him every week, praising his "bravery" and "courage" while overlooking his subpar vocals. But eventually, the judges, and viewers, grew tired of Lazaro. Nicki certainly spoke for all of America when, after Lazaro ruined a boys' group performance, she shouted: "GET OFF THE STAGE!"

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4) No One on "Idol" Knows How to Use Social Media
Nicki frequently went on the offensive on Twitter this "Idol" season, accusing ex-judge Steven Tyler of being a racist; putting eighth-place finalist Devin Velez on blast after she felt he'd dissed her in some of his exit interviews; feuding online with "Access Hollywood's" Laura Saltman and Billy Bush; and even calling Mariah Carey "bitter and insecure." But she wasn't the only "Idol" cast member who needed some social media training. Tenth-place contestant Curtis Finch Jr. shadily tweeted his outrage over the fact that Lazaro had outlasted him, posting, "Honey he has been MESSING UP! Forgotten lyrics and all!! Why am I at home?!?!" Angie Miller committed an epic social media fail by favoriting tweets from fans crying out for Lazaro's elimination, seemingly not realizing that the public could see her favorites. When Lazaro was finally voted off in sixth place, Burnell Taylor, who'd gone home the week before, tweeted: "GOD IS GOOD." And Amber Holcomb tweeted popular TV blogger Michael Slezak, after he made a negative comment about one of her outfits, with: "uhmmm I LOVE ALL MY OUTFITS I'VE WORN…who are you again?...exactly." Why do I have a feeling that Fox will put all of the judges and contestants' Twitter accounts on lockdown next season?

3) Mariah Carey Gets a J.Lo Blow
Three weeks before Season 12's end, rumors circulated that desperate "Idol" producers, in an attempt to boost ratings, had once secretly plotted to replace Mariah with former judge Jennifer Lopez--in the middle of this current season! According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Idol's" dastardly master plan was thwarted when Mariah threatened legal action, and Fox declined to comment on the matter. But the gossip lingered and only darkened the shadow already looming over the show. Later, in one of her famous Twitter rants, Nicki tweeted about "J.Lo's phone ringin'"--implying that the rumors were true.

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2) There Goes the Judge
In the week leading up to Season 12's finale, veteran judge Randy Jackson announced his resignation (presumably jumping ship before he could be pushed), amid ongoing rumors that his three co-stars would soon all "part ways" with the show as well. The news of Randy's departure overshadowed what should have been a triumphant week all about top two finalists Candice Glover and Kree Harrison…but hey, Candice and Kree got upstaged by the judges all season, so why should finale week be any different, right?

1) Nicki and Mariah's Feud is Heard 'Round the "Idol" World
Months before Season 12 even aired, the season was sabotaged by "leaked" footage, published by TMZ, of the judges fighting like feral cats. The vibe was icky and very un-"Idol"-esque, and the backlash was swift and immediate…but it got worse when Mariah told her side to Barbara Walters, claiming that Nicki had violently threatened her. From the start of the season, the entire focus was this stupid feud, not the contestants, and the season never recovered. Producer Nigel Lythgoe later blamed the judges' lack of chemistry for "Idol's" ratings decline, but if that footage hadn't leaked, maybe Season 12 would have had been more successful. Maybe viewers would have given Nicki (an often surprisingly astute and entertaining judge) a chance. Maybe more people in general would have tuned in. If "Idol" execs really thought hyping the Nicki/Mariah beef was the way to draw in viewers, clearly they were mistaken. And if that TMZ footage really was leaked, then the person who leaked it needs to be fired. "Idol" Season 12 never stood a chance.

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