Does Nicki Minaj Have The Chops For 'Idol'?

Host Michel Martin and the ladies of the Beauty Shop roundtable weigh in on the impact that the video of GOP candidate Mitt Romney might have on the election. They also discuss whether rapper Nicki Minaj has the singing chops to judge the big voices on American Idol.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we are going to talk about diversity or the lack thereof in television news and entertainment.

REPRESENTATIVE RICK LARSEN: But, first, it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators.

MARTIN: Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. She's here in Washington, D.C., along with Bridget Johnson. She's the Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And, from New Jersey, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. She's chief international correspondent with CNBC. She's at the news room there.

Ladies, thanks so much for joining us once again.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Hi, Michel. Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: So let's start with the big political story of the week and that's that video of Mitt Romney, which was secretly recorded at a fundraising dinner in Florida. That event was back in May. Apparently, a few snippets had been posted on YouTube previously, but the big video, the entire video, was just posted this week on the website of Mother Jones, which is generally a left of center news outlet, and Mr. Romney makes a number of comments. But the one that's getting the most attention is where he suggests that 47 percent of Americans will not consider voting for him because they are dependent on the government, believe they are victims and don't pay income taxes. And, initially, Mr. Romney said his remarks were inelegantly stated.

But he told Fox News yesterday that he stands by the central theme. Let me just play a short clip of that.

MITT ROMNEY: I think a society based upon a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money - that's the wrong course for America. That will not build a strong America or help people out of poverty.

MARTIN: So, Bridget Johnson, P.J. Media is all about limited government. That's kind of the underlying philosophy of your, you know, outlet. How do you respond to that?

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I'm actually going to, you know, give Mother Jones a tip here and say, you know, I don't fault them for releasing this video. It's the same kind of thing that (unintelligible) would have done if they had a - you know, some of Obama.

But the problem with this for Romney is that it's basically validating the picture that the Obama campaign has been trying to paint of him and it's also just really highlighting how what he says is tailored to his audience. You know, you go back to CPAC during the primary and some people have said that he's never gotten out of a primary mindset and this video really highlights that, too. But he was telling CPAC, I'm a severely conservative Republican, and then he has to go out and woo moderates.

So, you know, it's an example of kind of, too, how phrasing can hurt someone in an election. You know, instead of saying, I'm not concerned about the very poor, you talk about how you'll be working to enrich the lives of people who are very downtrodden and people who have been hurt by the recession and how to pull them up. Instead of talking about the percentage not paying taxes and assuming that they live in a state of victimhood, which is automatically off-putting and when you're a good politician, you don't automatically write off any percentage of the electorate and say, well, they're not going to vote for me, anyways, so let's, you know, paint them all as losers.

You talk about flat tax proposals. You talk about fair tax proposals. It's been done by Steve Forbes, by Mike Huckabee, etc. So that's how you do it.

MARTIN: Yeah. People are making the contrast to the statements that were secretly recorded of then candidate Obama in 2008, where he talked about people clinging to guns and religion, but if you go to the end of that sentence, the end of his sentence was not, these people aren't going to vote to me. His sentence was, how do we get people who are bitter engaged and who believe the system isn't working for them - how do we get them to believe that the system is working for them? That was the end of that sentence. I just think it's fair to point that out.

Viviana, your reaction?

HURTADO: Interestingly, President Obama told Letterman that, during his acceptance speech, he said, I know that a large percentage of you didn't vote for me. You voted for John McCain and he did, in fact, say this. I remember this. He said, I want to figure out how I'm going to be a president for all Americans, even for you.

And I think what's really interesting about it is that, on Wednesday, Mitt Romney is going to be with - on Univision - on Univision for the first of two candidate forums with President Obama appearing tomorrow. And so, without a doubt, there's going to be - this is going to be - this 47 percent is going to be addressed, interestingly, as people have been looking at who supports President Obama and who supports Mitt Romney. A large percentage of minorities, in fact, support President Obama.

And so I think the question is going to be how is Mitt Romney going to be less of a severe conservative and less of this primary conservative mode and more appealing to a general population electorate? In fact, what he does is confirm what everybody's stereotype of Mitt Romney is, which is a severe conservative.

MARTIN: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, what about you? You know, we've interestingly been hearing a mixed verdict. Some people are saying, OK. Let's have this argument. Other people are saying, as you know, you've heard that this is really a shot in the foot here. What do you think?

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA: Well, it can be both. Right? I mean, it was inelegant. At the same time, I think this election is very much about the size of government and the role of government in people's lives, but Mitt Romney could have said things far more eloquently to say, there's 47 percent of people who don't pay federal income tax. I need to try to convince them that they want to pay more in taxes because, when I run the economy, it's going to be better. They're going to move up in social structure because they're going to have more income.

I mean, there could - there was an opportunity to be very affirmative and it was really quite dismissive. That was disheartening to just dismiss 47 percent of the voting population, but still, that is - does not take away from the fact that this is - this election is very much a discussion about the size of government and what role do you want it to play in your lives? And President Obama has made very clear that he thinks that, when there is a problem, government can help solve it, regardless of whether it's housing, whether it's education, etc.

MARTIN: But how does he - how does he talk about the people who haven't paid income tax when he won't release his own taxes - is part of the issue here. And, again, I mean, isn't the factual issue, the substantive issue, that he's conflated a number of different groups here? There's the whole question of people who receive government benefits in whatever form, be it health care, be it, you know, farm subsidies, for that matter.

And then there's the question of the people who pay taxes and there are plenty of people who work and don't pay taxes because their incomes are too low or because they've taken advantage of tax sheltering mechanisms.

So, Viviana, can he really make that argument, effectively?

HURTADO: I think it's going to be difficult to make that argument, Michel, and it's also going to be equally difficult for the Romney campaign to make the argument that they have been very consistent with, actually, that President Obama has been the candidate waging class warfare.

And so I think that, you know, as Mitt Romney tries to walk this back, you know, I just find it very difficult because you have to press rewind. You've got to go in reverse. You've got to go back to realize that this is actually really consistent with Mitt Romney, the primary candidate, not just now in 2012, but in 2008, where it was at a contest to out-conservative your opponent and, in doing so, you've ended up alienating a bit amount of the electorate. And, as I mentioned, this confirms the stereotype, not from, you know, the oppo, not from the Obama campaign, but from Mitt Romney's mouth.

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to our Beauty Shop roundtable. If you just joined us, we're joined by Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the Wise Latina Club. That's who was speaking just now. Bridget Johnson's also here. She's Washington, D.C. editor of P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian outlet. And Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is CNBC's chief international correspondent. She's with us from her news room there.

You know, one of the things that occurred to me is that all this debate over the video kind of overshadowed Mitt Romney's speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles on Monday, which was supposed to be a big important policy speech in advance of his appearance on Univision. He talked about the economy, jobs and immigration reform. But, just in case you didn't hear it, let me just play a short clip.

ROMNEY: I want to preserve our heritage of robust, legal immigration and I want to make sure that those who abide by the law and wait in line to immigrate here and do so legally are not at a disadvantage. That's why I pose amnesty because amnesty will make it harder, not easier, to strengthen our legal immigration system.

MARTIN: Now, Michelle, according to a recent poll by Impremedia and Latino Decisions, Latino voters support President Obama by a margin of 74 percent to Romney's 21 percent and he already - Mr. Obama has an advantage with Latino voters, overall. And there seems to even - to be this gender gap, as we just said, so why so lopsided, you know, at this point? You know, we were - during the Republican convention, we saw a tremendous number of, you know, Latino political stars of both genders. So why so lopsided?

CARUSO-CABRERA: Yeah. I think it's unfortunate that there is an arm of the Republican Party that comes off as extremely anti-immigrant and that has really overshadowed the entire discussion and the other arm of the Republican Party, which would actually be extremely open to a lot more immigration because they consider it to be a core value in terms of how a cap economy is run. Do you believe in the free movement of labor, capital and goods? And labor is part of it.

The way you reduce illegal immigration is you make it as legal as possible and you allow in as many people as possible as your economy will be able to handle, but that gets overshadowed by the arm of the Republican Party that believes that jobs should be preserved for Americans living here and they don't understand how that actually hurts our competitiveness in the world.

MARTIN: Bridget Johnson, your take?

JOHNSON: Well, giving an economic message to Hispanics is very smart, to begin with. You know, I'm a southern Californian and anybody from L.A. knows that, you know, there's a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the Latino community and, when you move to the east coast, you miss all those Latino businesses.

But this also highlights that Romney problem of giving a different message to a different audience because he has said things about self-deporting, things that are off-putting to a decent percentage of that electorate.

So you kind of look at some contrasts and you think, you know, somebody like Senator Marco Rubio - he's doing it better because he's doing that economic message, but he's also weaving in the more compassionate, conservative planks of saying, I do understand that we need immigration reform. I do understand how immigrants contribute to this country.

So, you know, you have a lot of social conservatives in the Hispanic community and fiscal conservatives who, by all logic, you know, should be embracing many planks of the Republican platform, but, you know, you can't do it if you're giving different messages to different audiences.

MARTIN: Viviana, your take on it?

HURTADO: I think it's really interesting that Comedy Central, when they covered the Republican National Convention in Tampa, kind of, you know, very tongue in cheek, were branding it Jeb Bush 2016, which speaks very much to what Bridget is saying about this need for compassionate conservatism, you know, in the form of Marco Rubio. Certainly, Jeb Bush, who has been very vocal about being more inclusive, the Republican Party being more inclusive, because they're looking at the data of 2010, the U.S. Census, which revealed that this country is becoming browner and that demographic shift, which is revolutionary, which we are still trying to figure out, and it's going to figure out, as time goes on, is being led, not just by Hispanics, but by U.S.-born Hispanics who are English dominant, who are young, who are tech savvy and who are English dominant.

MARTIN: So you're saying this is a wasted opportunity?

HURTADO: I...

MARTIN: You just don't feel like the party hasn't really advanced a message, a coherent message at all?

HURTADO: As I listen to Mitt Romney address the USACC, I - there was a lot that made sense to me. You absolutely have to have, as Michelle nailed, some kind of an immigration system that allows as many people to come here to come here and work and pay into the system - and by the way, have their employees pay into the system.

He spoke about the need for some kind of an electronic immigration verification process. He also spoke about, you know, immigrants who graduate are going to be able to graduate, quote, with a diploma stapled on - "with a green card stapled on their diploma." All of that makes sense, but all of a sudden, there's just this big disconnect happening because not just the 47 percent, but you know, he's also saying this week that he doesn't know Chris Kobach, who is, by the way, an informal advisor. Chris Kobach, who's the Kansas Secretary of State, who's the intellectual author of the most restrictive immigration laws in the United States, including Arizona's and Alabama's.

Oh, yeah. And, by the way, going reversa, you know, doing the rewind in my own blog, I remember when Chris Kobach and Mitt Romney campaigned together in South Carolina. So it's just not adding up.

MARTIN: So, speaking of adding up - that was a terrible segway - there's some seat switching among judges on "American Idol" and "The Voice." "Idol" is adding hip-hop diva Nicki Minaj and country star Keith Urban. It was previously announced that Mariah Carey will be joining old standby, old shoe Randy Jackson. He's hanging in there over on NBC's "The Voice." Usher and Shakira are going to step in while CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera take a break.

And, you know - does anybody watch the shows? Come on. Don't try to act like you don't watch these shows. Michelle, help me out here.

(LAUGHTER)

CARUSO-CABRERA: I have seen...

HURTADO: You know, we can't see your body language or your facial gestures.

CARUSO-CABRERA: I work in television and we ask - you know, we ask very deep, philosophical questions. I think one of the most important things - do you really want four judges instead of three? I mean, that's really - joking.

MARTIN: Well, the other point - the other question here - does anybody think that Nicki Minaj should be judging somebody singing - is really the question. I'm trying not to be mean. I'm not being mean.

CARUSO-CABRERA: I have no issue with that. She's - it's entertainment. She's clearly a show person. I saw her perform on "Saturday Night Live" and, you know, she's not a crooner, but she's definitely an entertainer.

MARTIN: All right. Well, then one more thing I wanted to ask you ladies about. Barcelona soccer team football reportedly requested only female flight attendants from their official airline provider, Turkish Airlines. Now, listen to this. The reason, they say, is that the male flight attendants were constantly pestering them, asking for autographs and jerseys and this was getting on their nerves. And I just think that that is so fascinating because, you know, when I first raised this topic, of course, a lot of my colleagues were like, yeah. Right. That's why.

But, Bridget, what do you think? I mean, this reminds me. OK. Hang in here with me. This reminds me of a number of developing countries where they put into all female police units, for example, in certain sensitive areas because they say the women are less susceptible to corruption. And I don't know. Do you just - do you buy it or you don't buy it?

JOHNSON: You know, you only have to go outside the United States or even get online and read the British tabs to know what bad boys footballers are. So...

MARTIN: You're not buying it?

JOHNSON: So I'm not buying it. You know, I understand - yes - they may be hassled. They're being kind of diva about it, but - yeah - I think they would - they'd like the lady contingent around.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. Viviana, no? You're not buying it?

HURTADO: Oh, I'm sorry, Michel. I'm frantically filling out my application to be a flight attendant on Turkish Airways, but actually - but here's the deal. Interestingly, when this story broke, so did a story that announced that Iberia, which is the official airlines of Spain, is - went into an official contract - extended their official contract with Turkish Airways to handle all, you know, cargo, precious cargo, baggage in Spain for Turkish Airways.

So I just really want to say that it seems like an equal exchange to me. While Iberia within Spain is handling the precious cargo for Turkish Airlines, we've got, you know, Barca, that will be handling some of Turkish Airways' precious cargo, which is in the form of their stewardesses.

MARTIN: Oh, my. Flight attendants. Thank you, Michelle.

CARUSO-CABRERA: I'll play - I'll play the contrarian. I spent a lot of time in Europe covering the European financial crisis and what you learn by osmosis is just how crazy they are about soccer. I have no doubt that they got harassed on the plane by the guys. I think, of course, they get the additional benefit that they like the women, so it's probably a little bit of both.

MARTIN: It's a win-win. Goal.

HURTADO: Vamos, Barca.

MARTIN: Goal. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is CNBC's chief international correspondent. She was kind enough to join us from her newsroom in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Here in Washington, D.C., Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. And Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and website.

Ladies, thank you.

HURTADO: Thank you, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, according to a new study by the National Association of Black Journalists, the future is looking bleak for all people of color in television newsrooms. We'll ask why they say that and why they think that matters. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Nelly Furtado has sold millions of records with tight beats and fun lyrics, but with her latest project, she hopes to connect with fans on a more spiritual level.

NELLY FURTADO: I want the music to do something to the listener, and I think that's what I strive for when I'm in the studio.

MARTIN: Nelly Furtado tells us more about her new album, "The Spirit Indestructible," next time on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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