"American Idol" begins its 12th season Wednesday facing questions once again about its ability to endure as a top-rated show, especially given the increasingly crowded talent show landscape that includes NBC's hit "The Voice." All the shows are down in the ratings, Darnell noted.
Veteran executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is used to hearing the query. Famous judges have the pre-debut spotlight and media attention but the contestants ultimately are what keep viewers watching, he said after the panel.
That's not to say the panel isn't key, said Trish Kinane, another executive producer.
"We wanted judges who were experts and had a right to be here, and we also wanted honesty," she said. "We very much took that into consideration. I think we've got it. They're not shrinking violets, they say what they think, and we encourage that."
Minaj displayed that Tuesday, saying firmly that "Idol" is not the show for rap, her own genre.
"If you're looking for people to believe you and feed you as a rapper, I wouldn't do it," said Minaj, adding that viewers love "American Idol" as an "honest singing competition, and I'm not here to change that."