Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

UPDATED: The feud between new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj: real or fake? That was the question lobbed at the American Idol panel at TCA this morning in the wake of reports of cat-fighting between new judges Carey and Minaj, which one critic charged “feels like it’s fake.” Naturally, that sentiment was vehemently denied by both the producers and the judges. “Whatever feuds there have been — and this isn’t just between Nicki and Mariah but Keith (Urban) and Randy (Jackson) as well — are genuine,” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said. “Whenever you’re in this sort of passionate situation, these things happen.” Fox reality chief Mike Darnell echoed that “it’s authentic” and explained that it has to do with the fact “there is passion in this group. They disagree about the talent, and the ways to approach the talent.” (After the panel, Darnell denied that anyone involved in Idol has orchestrated the Carey-Minaj feud, blaming it on “a rogue crew member probably took the video and sent it to TMZ. We did not encourage it.”)

And what do the ladies have to say about the fighting? “This is a passionate panel,” Carey said. “There are a lot of strong personalities…I think the fighting is what it is. This is American Idol. It’s bigger than all of that. But this is not just a big trumped-up thing.” Later, when asked how she and Minaj worked out their differences, Carey maintained that “the whole thing is convoluted, and it’s a distraction from the show and the contestants, and I think it’s unfair to them really.” Minaj added, “We’re professionals.” But that was followed by a collection of jokey quips from the panel designed to diffuse the question. It worked.

Meanwhile, as to the inevitable issue of whether Idol is growing a bit long in the tooth entering its 12th season, Darnell denied that the series was “reaching its sunset,” as even Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly had admitted. With the new trio of judges joining perpetual holdover Jackson, Darnell believes the show continues to “reach a renewal every couple of years, and this panel has reinvigorated the show. There’s a great energy on this panel that’s going to hike it up.” At the same time, Darnell admitted that the sheer tonnage of music competition shows now crowding the air (including The X Factor on Fox) makes continuing to draw in viewers an increasing challenge. “There are too many shows on the air and we’re probably all taking each other down a little bit,” he noted. “But (Idol) is still the king of (these) shows. This is the only one that makes stars, period. And people keep coming back for that reason.”

After the panel, Darnell said he couldn’t see any end in sight for the show. “Look, in my wildest dreams, could I ever have imagined that we’d have a show go 11 years going into its 12th still the No. 1 entertainment show on television? No. That’s incredible. And that’s with all of the challengers and everything else”, he said, adding later, “We’re still doing numbers that, even as it goes down, are enviable. I don’t see us living without it for many years to come.”