Decoding What the American Idol Judges Really Mean

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

Last night's episode of American Idol was a shock — not because of how the results shook out, but because the show finally brought back mentor Jimmy Iovine, who gave deliciously scathing and accurate critiques to each of the contestants (who were, up to this point, totally unaccustomed to that). Many Idol pundits pointed out that in his Cowell-esque truth-telling, Iovine drew a great contrast between himself and the three ever-sunny judges ... but maybe they haven't been listening hard enough. Sure, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler are loathe to deliver anything resembling actual criticism, but if you read between the lines, even their most innocuous go-to phrases have hidden meanings, and sometimes an apparent compliment can actually mean the exact opposite. Here's your handy-dandy guide to what they're really saying.

If a judge says, "That wasn't the best song choice for you,"
It means, "You are awful."

If Jennifer Lopez tells a female contestant, "I love your outfit,"
It means, "You're finally pretty!"

If Steven Tyler tells a female contestant, "I love your outfit,"
It means, "I want to fuck you."

If a judge says, "You're so unique and original,"
It means, "You remind me of another contemporary singer who is unique and original. In fact, I may undercut my point by comparing you to that singer in my next sentence!"

If a judge says, "You need to work on tone,"
It means, "You were never once in tune. Not a single time. Not even accidentally. Who are you, Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend's Wedding? What even happened up there?"

If Randy Jackson says, "That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!"
It means, "Finally, someone I liked has performed."

If Jennifer Lopez tells a male contestant, "You know you're a star, right?"
It means, "Wear tighter shirts."

If Jennifer Lopez says, "This is such a tough choice! There's so much talent this year! I don't know how America is going to choose!"
It means, "You will not get chosen. In actual fact, it will be easy for America to summarily reject you."

If a judge says, "We want to see you mix it up,"
It means, "You have been singing the same kind of song over and over, and this has grown tiresome. However, if you even attempt to inch out of your box next week, we will slam you so hard."

If Randy Jackson says, "That was a good performance,"
It means, "That was your worst performance so far."

If Steven Tyler sings a snippet of one of his own songs in response to you,
This is a good thing! You know how when you howl in front of a dog, its ears will perk up, and if you keep doing it, the dog will start howling, too? Congratulations, you have roused the part of Steven that responds in kind to great singing! (Just stop him when he tries to sniff your crotch or hump your leg.)

If Jennifer Lopez tells a male contestant, "There's just something about your voice, I don't know what it is!"
It means, "I like your voice, but you're not attractive. It's so adorable when ugly people try!"

If Jennifer Lopez tells a female contestant, "There's just something about your voice, I don't know what it is!"
Trick question! She would never praise a female contestant's voice.

If a judge says, "We're not really familiar with that song,"
It means, "Country music blehhhhh!"

If Jennifer Lopez says, "You've come so far to get here,"
It means, "It ends here for you, tomorrow night."

If Jennifer Lopez says, "I'm about to cry!"
It means, "Producers, please switch to a tight close-up on my eyes."