Randy Jackson Interviewed — Part 1

     January 9, 2007

The other day RandyJackson did a conference call with journalists around the country and it wasthe first promotional event for the new season of American Idol. Perhaps you’ve heard of the show, you know the onethat dominates the ratings and causes millions upon millions to tune in. It’salso the show that causes karaoke singers around the country to think they canget a record deal. Well it worked for TaylorHicks….let the flame mail begin.

Anyway, while I didn’tparticipate in the call, FOX was kind enough to send me the transcript and Ifigured some of you would want to read it. The interview is pretty long but ifyou’re a fan of the show and need a fix, this might help you out.

Personally I love Idol,especially the first few weeks. Watching the no talent performers is some ofthe best TV that airs. Idol returns January 16th and here are thekey dates:


Two-Night, Four-Hour Season Premiere

Features Auditions in Minneapolisand Seattle

Top 24 Singers Revealed on Wednesday, February 14

Top 12 Male Singers Perform on Tuesday, February 20

Top 12 Female Singers Perform on Wednesday,February 21

First LIVE Results Show on Thursday, February 22

Top 12 Finalists Perform for the First Time onTuesday, March 13

Due to the length of thisinterview I had to break it up into two parts…here is part 1. At the end willbe a link to part two.

Rodney Randy, I was wondering. Simon has bitched and moaned about the guestjudges that you guys bring in during auditions. Do you mind the guest judges or could you live without them yourself?

Randy I think I could definitely live without them. I mean the show works because it’s the threeof us on the panel and kind of what we do and how we interact. I don’t necessarily think that we need guestjudges. I think when people come intothe arena that we judge in, it’s often a little awkward and a little hard forthem. I think people look at the show asa fan and go, “I could do that. I’d loveto be there.” It’s almost like saying Icould be a pitcher or I could with the Cy Young Award. Actually, I couldn’t. I don’t even know if I could pitch littleleague. I mean, yes, you could do it,but is it going to be great or are you just there for the TV face time?

Rodney Obviously, it’s the executive directors whomade that decision, right? The executiveproducers, I mean, make that call, right?

Randy Yes. I actually don’t knowwho actually makes the call, but I think I could do without it, too.

Rodney One follow-up question: How many days do you spend at each auditioncity and how many people do you see in each audition city?

Randy We spend about two days in each city. We generally see about 200 people a day.

Rodney A day? Holy cow.

Randy Yes. That’s a lot ofsinging, dude.

Rodney Oh, my God.

Randy A lot of being sung at.

Rodney That’s a long day … 14-hour days. Thank you so much.

Corey Every year they make a few tweaks to theshow. Anything new this year that we canexpect that you know of?

Randy I’m going to wear more yellow and lime green in honor of GnarlsBarclay.

Corey I’m looking forward to that.

Randy I’m going to come dressed like a Jedi every week like GnarlsBarclay. No. We have a few things that we change, but Ithink the formula is pretty much what it is. I mean you’ll see a couple of wrinkles here and there, but of course, Ican’t tell you what that is.

Corey I know the success of the show continues tosurprise people every year that it just keeps getting bigger and bigger andbigger. How long will that continue andwhat would have to happen for the show to suddenly not be as successful as itwas the year before?

Randy Listen, I mean I think this is the greatest music talent show ever,right? I mean I know that me, Simon, andPaula, we never really think about the ratings or look at that or whatever. Ithink we just go out and kind of do what we do. I think there’s an abundance of talent in America and there will never be nota lot of talent out there. I mean yousee what’s happening to Jennifer Hudson, who didn’t even win that year thattells you right there there’s a lot of great talent out there. It’s just about finding it. I think the show can continue to besuccessful as long as we go out and find great talent. I don’t know what the numbers are going to beeach year. I don’t even think about thatreally, because American Idol is a search for the next superstar. It’s not search for the next ratings boost tome. Do you know what I mean?

Corey Yes. Any particular genre shine during theauditions?

Randy This year it’s really weird, man. We had some of everything. Therewas, of course, more rock guys because of Chris Dautry and stuff that happened.I think there were a couple of more kind of Taylor Hicks kind of guys I mean that werekind of in the middle somewhere, but it’s the same thing. I think fortunatelyfor us every year, the show gets more validation because people see thatthere’s great people that have won and gone on to great careers. So we get a lot more talented people everyyear, I feel.

Corey Cool. Thank you.

David I guess my question is have you had a chanceto see Jennifer Hudson since the whole Dream Girls thing came out? Have you had the chance to commiserate withher at all?

Randy Yes. I went to the premier here in LA of Dream Girls and talked toher for quite a long time and then I saw her at a dinner, the Carousel of HopeBall here in LA that was honoring Clive Davis and Quincy Jones. We talked for a long time there.

David Is she still maybe asking for advice at allor …?

Randy No, but she did say, “Thank you for making me your wildcard pick,”because sometimes we forget years go by. She was my wildcard pick that year. I just say to all of them, “Make sure you make the right record.” That’s what it’s all about. We talk about it on the show and we get a lotof flack from it on the show, but it’s all about great songs on the show, greatsongs after the show. That’s what makeshit records, great songs.

David Thank you.

Chris Randy, it seems like on CBS Rock Star kind ofclicked with some viewers because the song selection was a little moremodern. Are there songs that you’re justsick to death of from American Idol by now?

Randy Yes. There are a lot ofsongs that we’re sick to death of during the auditions. We mentioned “At Last” by Etta James, whichis an amazing song, but people just butcher it “Fallin” by Alicia Keyes,people just butcher that. There are tonsof songs that people butcher and I have heard no one yet to ever sing a MariahCarey song and do it justice. Rock Star,I don’t know if the ratings were that big, so I don’t know how many people itreally did connect with it. As far as Iknow it probably didn’t connect with that many people. But listen, I think that what we do is it’sabout challenging people, so the song selections that we make it’s not aboutbeing modern. The one thing that I know,being a record producer, is that every kid out there in America knowsevery song on the radio right now. Youcould say, “Sing “Promiscuous” to me. Sing Sexy Back.” They know all ofthat. But if I go back and say, “Listen,let me hear you sing some Nat King Cole.” “Who is that?” Or better still,“Sing me some Beatles. “Who are they?” “What?” Then it creates thechallenge part of the competition. Do youknow what I’m saying?

Chris Yes.

Randy Having them sing whatever songs are on the charts is boring becauseI know they already know them. I knowthose.

Chris One last quick one: What’s this about you working with the Hiltonout here in Vegas?

Randy You never know. There may besome things going on in Vegas, man. You’ve got to stay tuned.

Chris Maybe a series of concerts?

Randy Maybe. I like you, man. You’re pretty good.

Chris Thank you, Randy.

Michael Randy, I’m looking forward to seeing all ofthe horrible, horrible, horrible singers this time. I don’t care about the good ones. I like the lousy ones.

Randy You sound like Simon Cowell. Are you guys friends?

Michael Well, I don’t know. Give me an idea of who is going to be the onethat everyone is going to be talking about, about how bad he or she is.

Randy You know, every season there’s a number of those. You’re going to have to judge this time foryourself. There are a number ofthose. I’m telling you wonders never ceaseto amaze.

Michael Do you like these guys or do you just thinkthey’re ridiculous and wasting your time?

Randy I think for the first five seconds or so you like them. You think it’s funny. You’re laughing. Then you go, “Okay. Come on. What is this?” You just know thatpeople watch this show from year to year. You’ve seen Kelly Clarkson. Whatis she? She’s great. You see Fantasia, Clay, Ruben, now JenniferHudson, Carrie Underwood, Clay, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks. These people are great. Then yougo, “You’ve heard them.” Then they showup and they’re really horrible. You go,“Something must really be wrong with their hearing.” Then you start thinking, “I wonder whatthey’re seeing, too.” Maybe they have meand Simon confused.

Michael You mentioned that sometimes you’ll hear 200auditions a day. How can you, as ajudge, give equal time and your attention to the 200th person. Aren’t you just dying by then?

Randy Fortunately for us one of the things that makes this show really, reallycool is that myself, Simon, and Paula are really 25-year-plus music industryveterans. We’ve done every facet ofit. There’s nothing we don’t know aboutthe music business. So me having beenA&ampR guy for 15 years and also being a musician myself and being on acountless number of auditions when I was growing up, you’re used to doingit. I put bands together. I just hadMariah out on tour with a huge band. Imean it’s what I do, so I kind of know how to pace myself by this point. Do you know what I mean?

Michael Just one more quick question: How do you explain Jennifer Hudson losingAmerican Idol and now blowing away Beyonce in Dream Girls?

Randy Me personally, I don’t think she blows away Beyonce in DreamGirls. I went to the premier of themovie. I think she’s amazing in DreamGirls. I think that Jennifer Holiday,who originally sang the song, was equally, probably even more amazing, becauseit’s harder to be the original one than to be the second or the third one. I think she’s done amazingly well, but Iremind people every time the girl that won, her name was Fantasia Barrino andif you want to know why she won, go back and listen to that “Summertime”version that she did. It’s the best Idolperformance to date. That’s why she won.

Michael Thank you.

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Roger Randy, I’m reading my Entertainment Weeklylast week and it has Nigel Lithgow talking about you.

Randy Who’s that?

Roger He says, “Randy only uses five words overand over all season. We sent him adictionary, but he doesn’t read it. Howcan you work with a guy like that?”

Randy You know that’s a lie, because we’ve done a lot of theseinterviews, so you know and you watch the show. I think it’s just been Nigel’s running joke for a long time. I think what is really funny about it thoughis when he talks about the song selection, that we hate some of the songselections. I love the fact that he saysthe show is not about the songs it’s about the kids singing. Well, guess what? It’s about songs while you’re on the show,because if you sing a song that’s too hard for you, guess what, you’re notgoing to sing it very well, right? Afteryou get off the show what’s it about for your career? Songs again, that song word comes up alot. It’s all cool. Look, I mean I’m a record producer. He’s a TV producer. The funny thing, when I was doing A&ampR formany years, everyone wanted to be the A&ampR person, from the guy in the mailroom to the promotion guy, the marketing people, the publicist. I guess Nigel just maybe wants to be ajudge.

Roger Well, he was talking about your criticism ofthe final songs, especially from last year. I guess they’re going to try and have some sort of competition to get abetter final song. How do you feel aboutall of that?

Randy I don’t really know much about the song choice, but I’ll just saythis about songs: Listen, hit songs arevery hard to come by. If you look at thecharts every year, there may be five or ten memorable songs from eachyear. If they’re that hard to come by bythe greatest writers in the world you know this is a very hard feat, so I wisheveryone success with that one.

Roger Good luck. Thank you.

Eric I was reading my Entertainment Weeklyalso and I saw that you were quoted as saying you’re going to call up MariahCarey and ask her to be a guest judge, not a guest judge, but to mentor thekids and sing on the show. Is that goingto happen?

Randy I don’t know. I mean I’vebeen thinking about it. We’ve tossed itaround a bit. I think she’d be greatbecause I think still, for me, she and Whitney and Celine are those three biggreat divas, I mean some of the better singers of our time that we’ve everknown.

Eric Have you talked with Mariah about it?

Randy I mentioned it to her. We’llsee. I don’t know. We’ll see. You’ve got to stay tuned on that one.

Eric She was open to it?

Randy Yes. I mean definitely opento it, so we’ll see what happens.

Eric What’s this I hear? I hear some rumors going around about groupperformance situations where the kids will be judged or the contestants will bejudged in groups as an element, not just during Hollywoodweek? Is there any truth to that?

Randy You’ve got to stay tuned to see if that comes true or not.

Eric Any standouts so far, goodcontestants? I also saw that people weresaying there’s really no front runner and there’s no Carrie Underwood orFantasia this year. Is that true?

Randy I think what’s going to happen this year is Simon and I have beensaying it’s more like season one. Ithink it’s going to be somebody that really grows during the competition. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know. There are a bunch of standouts, but you know what happens is what we’veseen over the years is that you see these people audition in their audition cityand they’re great. Then they come to Hollywood week and they’re not so great and the tensionjust gets worse and worse and worse as the season goes on. So it’s who can really stand in there andtake it and show up every week and be amazing.

Eric What’s up with Seattle? Everyone is saying it’s the worstcity ever. What happened there?

Randy I don’t know if it was that bad. I thought we found some pretty good people inSeattle, so I’mnot going to say it was the worst city. To me we found three great people in Seattle. I’m happy.

Eric Thank you very much.

Mike Randy, forgive the laryngitis here. I wantto go back to Jennifer Hudson for a second. The irony is that in Dream Girls she plays someone who has an amazingvoice, but is bounced because she doesn’t have the looks and the charisma ofsome of the others. Some people thoughtthat’s what happened in American Idol, too. That she had an amazing voice, maybe one of the best there was, but shejust, for whatever reason I don’t know looks, charisma, something, wasbounced sooner than she should have been. How do you feel about that?

Randy I think she was bounced sooner than she should have been. But if you remember that season, and it’shard for people to go back and think about it people don’t even remember thatshe was my wildcard pick. We had our ownDream Girls that season. We had LaToya,Jennifer Hudson, and Fantasia Barrino. So the thing that was going to happen is who was ever the best singer atthat time. Fortunately for her, Fantasia,as I said, “Summertime” is the only time that I’ve gotten goose bumps from anysinger on Idol during the show. She blewthat out. That was better than anybody’sperformance for me to date, so to me she deserved to win that season. I mean, look, you saw Ruben win. It’s not about weight. It’s not about look. I mean that’s what Idol is about. It’s not about any of that, so I don’t thinkthere’s any truth to that.

Mike In other words it’s song choice and“Summertime” was the ultimate song choice for Fantasia?

Randy It was the ultimate thing for Fantasia. Fantasia is an amazing singer, so I mean shelost to someone equally amazing and at that time probably was better on theshow than Jennifer was consistency wise. I mean it’s just really being honest. The public only calls it as they see it. They don’t have the industry savvy that you and I have. Do you know what I’m saying? I mean, listen, she lost to a very, verytalented singer.

Mike Cool. Thank you.

Mark To stay on that for a second, I noticedlast year there was a lot of personality in the finalists you guys chose. I’m curious how big a part of the formula isthat? I’m thinking about people like Dautry,who kind of nothing to everything. Thenthere was Kelly Pickler and others. Howmuch of the back story really figures in what you these people for?

Randy Well, the public actually picks these people to put them in thefinals. We do the auditions, but thenthe public starts eliminating them, as you will start seeing next week on theshow. Definitely, personality plays ahuge part because you know the three qualities I look for is unbelievable,unique talent, and some sense of star potential, if you will. That means some great personality, somethingthat’s going to engage people and also that confidence, that reallyeye-of-the-tiger kind of persistence. Doyou know what I mean?

Mark Yes.

Randy So I think you look for that in all singers. I think if you think back to Elvis, Elvis hadall of that. If you think to whomeveryou love, whether it’s Sinatra, Nat King Cole, whoever you love, whether it’sPrince or whomever, they all had all of those things. I think that’s what makes up a great, greatsuperstar.

Mark One other question: Last year you said you got terrific peopleout of Greensboro and I noticed Greensboro wasn’t on the list this year. Any thoughts on that?

Randy No. We had the best time in Greensboro and I think weloved it. I’m sure we’ll be back inthose parts some time, but we move it around every year and try and go todifferent cities. Who knows? We may not come back to Greensboro,but maybe we’ll go to Charlotteagain or something. I don’t know. Do you know what I mean? We’ll definitely move it around because wehad a good time down there. It’s a greatplace, man.

Mark Thank you.

Mary Randy, as I’m sure you know, people in Birmingham have some toexpect to see an Idol finalist from our city …

Randy Well, Birminghamhas definitely done itself proud over the years I must say.

Mary Tell me, what do you think about thechances for that happening again this season?

Randy Listen, you never know, but I’ve got a feeling the winner is goingto be from somewhere else this year.

Mary Don’t tell me that. Did you see any good talent in Birmingham?

Randy Yes.

Mary Tell me a little bit about what you sawthere.

Randy Listen, we had a very good time. I mean I love the city. We had agreat time. We saw some really talentedpeople. You never know, though. I mean I think it may have been someone thatauditioned in Birmingham, but maybe not from Birmingham. I don’t know, but we had a good time thereand we found some good people.

Mary Randy, when it comes to the songs that thetwo finalists at the end are singing, that they record, do these have to be inyour opinion, these big, swelling, sentimental ballads?

Randy Do you mean with words like blessed and love and thank God andwithout you, I wouldn’t be alive? Do youmean stuff like that?

Mary Yes, like that.

Randy No, not necessarily, but I think, listen, it’s a very emotionalcompetition, right?

Mary Yes.

Randy So I think what they’re trying to create is to try and find a songthat takes you through the journey. It’slike when you graduate from college or high school and they’re singing “Pompand Circumstance.” It’s that song, youknow, or like the season that we had the Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way.” It kind of encapsulates the whole emotion ofthe season. These kids go through a lotand they come a long way, so it doesn’t have to be that, no, but I think thatis kind of the whole general concept.

Mary If I can throw in one more here, I’m alwaysinterested to see what the contestants learn from the celebrities, who come into coach them, and then kind of what they take with them in otherperformances. What I see a lot of ispeople like Barry Manilow or whoever will say to them, “You’re singing thatfine, but there’s no emotion behind it.” I mean tell me a little bit about that. Do you think that’s something that the technically competent singersaren’t thinking about or maybe at this stage in their careers they just don’tknow how to do the emotional part?

Randy Yes. I think what reallyhappens is we pick kids off the street. This is an open call to whomever wants to show up if they’re between theage of 16 and 28, so these are people that are not seasoned veterans. This is the reason that we, myself and thejudges, keep talking about song choice during the season because guesswhat? Not only what these guest judgestell them, what we tell them, if they really listen and really went back overeverything we said to them they’re getting the lessons of life from threeindustry professionals plus the guest judges. What Barry is basically saying is a song is comprised of a bunch ofthings. It’s the lyric. It’s the melody. It’s also you being able to tie inemotionally to what that song means. What’s the lyric saying? What areyou trying to convey to the next listener? Also, the difficulty of the degree of singing in that song as if if youcan’t sing like Mariah Carey, then you shouldn’t be trying to sing Mariah Careysongs. If you are not as good a singeras Celine Dion, you shouldn’t be trying to sing Celine Dion songs. No matter whether you love them or not, Ilove a lot of things. I love MarioAndretti, but I don’t race cars. Do youknow what I mean? What he’s saying is doyou feel the emotion of this song? Doyou know what it’s saying? Have youtaken the time or are you just so technically fixated on the runs andwhatever? I have a lot of that problemwith a lot of singers during the season as well, because I know that they’renot tying in emotionally to the song, so it doesn’t quite get across to the listener. Do you know what I mean?

Mary Maybe it’s a torched blues song and they’resmiling through the whole thing and look happy.

Randy Or just giving it the wrong treatment, but I think a lot of thatreally is they just don’t really know who they are. That’s when you pick the wrong songs, but thereason that we tell them that it’s the wrong songs is because if you don’t knowwho you are you should learn who you are, so that you sing better, so that youcan have an easier road to some success.

Mary Thank you.

Marc Randy, this is the first time you’re backin the New Yorkarea for a while. How was the crowd atthe Meadowlands?

Randy It was actually really good. We had a good, good time in New York this time. We hadn’t been back there in years, so it was good to be back.

Marc Anyone stand out from that group?

Randy Yes, there were some talented people from New York this time. I don’t know if there was an abundance likethere’s been in past times that we’ve been there, but there were definitelysome talented people there.

Marc Why do you think all of the winners so farhave either been from Texasor the south? How come no one can seemto come from one of the bigger markets and win this competition?

Randy Well, I’m from the south, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sothe south should rise again. The southdoes it best, man. Come on. What are you talking about? No, I think that people from the south and Midwest are not as pretentious as some of the othercities. When I was doing A&ampR what Iwould always say about New Yorkand LA is everybody watches DET, VH1, MTV, and all of those shows and theybecome copies of what they see. So whenyou’re looking for genuine originality and you’re trying to find someone thatis just honestly talented and coming in with what they really have and reallytrying hard, sometimes it’s a little tough. I mean I don’t think we’re looking for a copy of anything. I know I’mnot and I don’t think Simon and Paula are either. I think it’s just really that I think it’sjust a little bit more tried and true in those areas.

Marc Thank you.

Lee Randy, what are we going to do with noMandissa? Going back to the questionthat just was answered, I know during one of the promos for the upcoming seasonSimon said, “Every year a southerner has won and I think a southerner will winagain this year.” Is that just himgiving a sound byte to whet our appetites?

Randy You know, I think that was just his view of it. I mean I don’t know. I’m not going to say it’s going to be asoutherner or not yet, but there were definitely some good southerners. I represent the south, so you know what I’msaying. I’ve got to keep it real.

Lee Me too. I’m from Virginia,so …

Randy I can hear that accent too.

Lee Yes. What about a guy like Elliott Yamin, who kind of came out of, let’s behonest, left field? What do you thinkabout what his future is going to hold?

Randy I think that he’s got a bright future ahead of him. I really like this kid. I think that he is the heart of what thecompetition is really about. I mean thisguy loved every moment of it. I mean herose to the occasion, a really great singer. I mean the fact that he’s 90% deaf in one ear and he sings like hesings, dude, I love this kid. I lovewhat he stands for. I think he’s thebomb. I think he’s got a brightfuture.

Lee Thank you so much, Randy. I look forward to it.

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