Cue the parade of good, bad and touching performances and biographies, with contestants facing serious challenges once again an "Idol" hallmark.
The judges, including veteran Randy Jackson, hardened their hearts and rejected a young man who had lost a leg to cancer but melted for a teenage girl whose family fosters children with medical concerns and another singer with partial hearing loss.
Forty-one people survived the New York auditions to sing another day in the Hollywood rounds, with the action moving to Chicago on Thursday's episode.
"I feel like we jell well in a weird, crazy way," Minaj declared optimistically of the panel near the episode's conclusion.
Fox certainly hopes so. Last season, "Idol" lost its status as the most-watched TV program for the first time since 2003, eclipsed by NBC's "Sunday Night Football," and pegged its lowest-rated season since it debuted in summer 2002.