Mean Girls or Establishing Rank: What do you think Mariah and Nicki are doing and what would you do?

(From left to right) Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban make up the judges for this season of American Idol. Ryan Seacrest (center) is American Idol's longtime host.

(From left to right) Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban make up the judges for this season of American Idol. Ryan Seacrest (center) is American Idol’s longtime host.

Last night at 8pm sharp, yours truly found a moment in an otherwise hectic day to watch American Idol. Not for the mix of great undiscovered talent and talent that should never be discovered parading before the panel of judges, but for the three new judges… Well, two of the three new judges.

I wanted to see Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Were they really having trouble with each other on the set or were they simply establishing rank? Both are messy but in the light of a national television show and millions watching, both scenarios can easily look like an excerpt from the movie “Mean Girls” or a real life epsiode of Divas Behaving Badly.

I’ll be honest. (This is a blog. Why not?) I had my doubts about what the real issue might have been when news first hit my favorite radio stations announcing the tension on the set. Was Nicki to blame? Was Mariah to blame? Were they really at each others throats? Or, were they doing something that happens in the real world every day… Establishing rank.

Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University Patreese D. Ingram wrote about ranking in “The Ups and Downs of the Workplace”, an article for the Journal of Extension:

Within almost every organization there is a hierarchy among the employees based on position, title, role, and function. In some sense, hierarchical distinctions create a class system in the workplace. Unlike other issues of diversity, class in the workplace is largely unacknowledged, causing some employees to feel like “somebodies” and others to feel like “nobodies.” While rank is a necessary tool in the management of organizations, rank-based mistreatment can result in lower levels of job satisfaction and performance, and lower levels of loyalty and commitment to the organization. Everyone deserves to work in a climate of dignity and respect.

It’s well known that as young adults, fresh from college enter the workforce with more than a standard bachelor’s degree but instead with master’s and doctorates, we’re placed in mid-level positions or in some cases senior level positions. Our older counterparts and subordinates are not always happy to see such a young one leading the the way let alone having a say in which way the company moves. “Push back” is inevitable and tensions rise.

Read: Tips for Managing Gen Y

The difference is in the business world the land of emails exists and carefully wording everything, sometimes to the point of sounding apologietic, is necessary. In the world of American Idol, knowing the buttons to push on the other judges without looking like the problem starter/ instigator, is clearly necessary.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on either side. I’ve just been there before and see the writing on the walls. To me, this is about establishing rank and who is the more prominent female judge on the panel. Mariah won the battle of the paychecks and rightfully so. She’s been in the music business since she was 19. But, Nicki may win the war of prominence. She’s popular in rap and pop music circles, her label was established by one of the most recognized rappers in the industry, her fan base is massive (but then again, so is Mariah’s), and she’s taking the gig with Idol seriously with pointed feedback to contestants and surprising moments of compassion to those who don’t make it to the next round.

So, after all the hype and seeing the first show, what do you think they’re doing? Mean Girls or Establishing Rank? How would you react if this was your situation at work or while reigning as your HBCUs Queen?


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