By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - New "American Idol" judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj shrugged off their widely publicized feud on Tuesday as a "trumped-up thing" that was merely a passionate difference of opinion over the TV talent show's contestants.
In their first big media appearance ahead of the hit show's return to Fox television on January 16, the two pop stars showered each other with praise while barely looking at each other.
A day after the airing of an ABC TV interview in which Carey said she hired extra security following threats reportedly made against her by Minaj last year, the "Hero" singer told reporters it was time to focus on the aspiring "Idol" stars.
"This is a very passionate panel. There are a lot of strong personalities," said Carey, who is reportedly being paid $18 million to be an "American Idol" judge.
"The fighting is what it is. This is 'American Idol.' It is bigger than some stupid trumped-up thing. It's about the next superstar ... The whole thing is convoluted. It's a distraction from the show and the contestants," Carey said.
Minaj, an outspoken 30-year-old rapper, called Carey one of her "favorite artists of all time."
"She has really shaped a generation of singers and to be on a panel with her where (contestants) all aspire to be Mariah Carey ... I feel excited to see them, see someone they look up to so much," Minaj said.
Carey, 42, recalled working with Minaj in 2009 on an album track, and knowing at the time that the rapper would be successful.
"Nothing to write about now!" quipped "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.
REVIVING AGING 'IDOL' FORMAT
Carey, Minaj and country singer Keith Urban joined "Idol" as judges in September for the upcoming 12th season after the departures of Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler.
Carey, with more than 200 million album sales, and Minaj, one of the most exciting voices in rap, are expected to revive the contest, which last year lost its eight-year crown as the most-watched show on U.S. television to "Saturday Night Football" on rival NBC.
Video of the pair arguing was leaked online from early auditions in last fall, and Minaj was reported to have said, "If I had a gun, I would shoot that bitch."
"American Idol" executive producer Trish Kinane said the new panel was chosen after fans said they wanted to see judges who were current and talented in their own right.
"They (fans) also wanted honesty, and we very much took that into consideration. They (the judges) are not shrinking violets. They say what they think, and we encourage that," Kinane said.
"American Idol", which has produced stars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, faces growing competition for TV audiences from a slew of rivals like "The Voice," "The X Factor," and "America's Got Talent." Last year, "Idol" attracted under 20 million viewers, down from the more than 30 million who watched on a regular basis five or six years ago.
But Mike Darnell, reality programming chief for Fox, said the new panel had "re-invigorated the show."
"Yes, there are too many (talent) shows on the air and they are all taking each other down a bit. But this is still the king of the shows and the only one that makes stars," Darnell said.
Fox is a unit of News Corp.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Paul Simao)