updated 02/20/2013 AT 8:00 PM ET
•originally published 02/21/2013 AT 11:15 AM ET
Goodbyes are often a necessarily evil on American Idol. But on Wednesday – which kicked off the show’s first-ever sudden-death round – they were downright nasty.
“I hated it. I really did,” Mariah Carey told PEOPLE of cutting five of 10 female contestants in Las Vegas. “Everybody was talented and different. There were some special people we had to get rid of.”
Nicki Minaj happened to agree: “I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings,” she said, “but I guess that’s what we’re required to do.”
Keith Urban even had to tell a contestant who had his support that her time on the show was over.
“I couldn’t get enough votes,” he said. “It was just simple as that. We all take turns saying ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to the girls, and I actually had to say it to the girl I had voted for. That’s particularly hard.”
The lobby for artists “gets impassioned,” he added. “You have need re-discuss and re-discuss what is it we’re really looking for and what are we basing this decision on. Even that is never easy. There is no clear cut decision on that.”
Wednesday episode was the first of three weeks for Idol to broadcast from the Beatles Love Theatre in Vegas. On Thursday, 10 men will perform and five will go home. The entire process will repeat with the remaining 10 women and 10 men on next week’s shows.
“This is a different thing than we’ve ever done,” veteran judge Randy Jackson said. “This is 10 sing and five gotta go. This is sudden death.”