"I love her," said Wright, who had been in line since 6 a.m. "I love her style, it's so much fun. She can step out and not care about anybody's opinion."
That seemed to be the consensus. Minaj, 29, is "her own person," said Baltimore's Melissa Misterka, who drove three hours with her friend, Paul Potter, beginning at dawn, just for a glimpse and an autograph.
"She's so versatile," Misterka, 22, added. "If she wants to rap, she can do that. If she wants to sing pop, she does it, too."
Potter, also 22, said she loved how Minaj's lyrics incorporate details about her daily life. "And she also speaks a lot about her fans," he said.
The police had herded the crowd, which began forming in earnest by 9 a.m., into three separate one-city-block-long lines. Though none looked over 25, they were a surprisingly diverse lot, equal parts men and women, a mix of whites and African Americans, Latinos, and Asians.
Determined to beat the crowd, Kelly Mulholland of Wallenpaupack, near Scranton, was in front of the store by 1 a.m.
"Because I am obsessed with her," said Mulholland, "and because this is my 21st birthday."
What would she tell Minaj when she came face-to-face with the rapper?
"I'm going to tell her she's absolutely amazing, and that it's my 21st birthday, and I wanted a picture with her," Mulholland said in one breath.
Minaj, who was due at 4 p.m., was almost 45 minutes late. Bodyguards whisked her quietly into the store by a side entrance, and she quickly went to work. Dressed in a black blazer with a cheetah pattern on the sleeves, and sporting blond hair, she signed poster after poster. The 30 seconds she spent with each fan must have been electric.
They seemed in shock as they walked out of the store one by one, or in pairs. Some chattered excitedly, some wept. Most milled about, looking stunned.
Shannon Sanchez, 23, from Northeast Philadelphia, said she had about a minute of Minaj's time after waiting for 5½ hours.
"Worth every second," she said. Minaj, she said, "was really nice and down-to-earth. She answered everyone's question, and she signed my chest when I asked."
Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more scene photos from Nicki Minaj's appearance at F.Y.E. go to www.philly.com.