Nigel Lythgoe, producer of 'American Idol' (and just about every other FOX reality show), insists that smackdown between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj was very real and wasn't conjured up by the publicity-hungry suits at the network.

Not because they'd never do such a thing, but because the timing is way off.

"I have no idea why I would be doing it [for ratings] five months before the show went out," he told TMZ. "They've got to realize I would only do anything for ratings a month before the show went out. They've got my timing wrong."

In other words, "Dude, we may be shameless, but we're not stupid."

That said, two famous faces familiar with the reality show circuit -- former 'Idol' judge Steven Tyler and 'The Voice' coach Cee Lo Green -- have their doubts.

"This is Hollywood, California. Hardly anything's legit," Green recently told reporters. Then Tyler said something similar before distracting everyone by pouting his giant lips and tossing his hair around.

Still, Lythgoe is standing by his statement. "[Nicki and Mariah] were amicable that afternoon," he said. "And I think before anybody makes any judgments they should see the show."

It's that "see the show" part that lets us know Lythgoe is on the clock -- even five months out.