I recently had the pleasure of participating in a conference call interview with Ian “Dicko” Dickson, designated “meanie” judge on The Next Great American Band. But Dicko is no Simon Cowell, as he was quick to point out to us – his blunt and sometimes abrasive honesty is meant to help the aspiring bands become more appealing, more marketable, and just more listenable (are YOU listening, Franklin Bridge?). Dicko let us in on which band is his favorite, who he thinks has potential to be a top money-maker (and his answer will surprise you), what he thinks of his fellow judges, upcoming theme weeks, and even what his favorite reality shows are. This is a man who truly loves music, much the same as those of us who’ve been hanging in there as fans of the show.
Dicko is an admitted reality-TV junkie himself, having been host of Australian Survivor, a judge on Australian Idol, and a contestant on the Australian Dancing With The Stars (he came in third, and was the last celebrity man standing). Survivor, he says, was fun – he got to say all the hokey Jeff Probst lines like, “The tribe has spoken.” He confesses to being an America’s Next Top Model fan, laughing that it sounds “pervy and creepy”, but finds the models’ antics “engaging”, and jokes that “life dawns on them very slowly”. Tyra Banks, he says, is “sensational”.
In spite of the perception that reality TV is waning in popularity, he doesn’t think it’s finished yet – particularly in view of the current writers’ strike.
Dicko reports that the poor ratings for TNGAB – which execs tell him are “shocking” – are a surprise, but feels a number of factors are at play, including “reality-TV overload” from the networks, and the Friday night timeslot. He reports that there was an upwards turn last week in the ratings (which the writer’s strike can only help) and the show is attracting a small but loyal audience.
He fully approves of America’s voting patterns, feeling that the viewers are picking off the “right” bands, and thinks the public is doing a great job of “separating the wheat from the chaff”. He notes, however, that he would have liked to see further improvement by Rocket.
Not surprisingly, Dicko has some strong opinions about the remaining acts.
Dot Dot Dot – “Amusing, bordering on rubbish. Adam is a great performer, but he’s like Mr. Bubbles for the emo world.”
Light of Doom – “If they were to win, they’d be exposed.” Dicko has been hard on the LOD lads, but it’s their age he’s worried about, not their talent or ability. He didn’t like their original song – unfortunate as he says the original songs are “how the bands define themselves.”
Interestingly, he feels that LOD’s parents have been living vicariously through them – “Maybe their dads were Iron Maiden roadies, or their moms were Iron Maiden groupies.”
Franklin Bridge – He loves them, but says their biggest challenge is their tendency to “overcomplicate” their arrangements. “Keep it simple, stupid.” When asked if he feels FB might be a little cocky or over-confident, he says absolutely not, and thinks there’s room for a little attitude. As good as he thinks they are, he also named their “Philadelphia Freedom” cover as the worst performance of the competition – because he loves the band so much, that song was a “crushing disappointment” to him.
Sixwire – “Hormone-replacement therapy for middle-aged women.” Dicko let us in on the fact that Sixwire did at one point have a record deal, and were dropped, so the show is a second chance for them. “They are what they are”, he says, “they’re accomplished – it’s not my kind of music, and I find them light on ‘magic’”. Ideally, he’d like to see them be a little more edgy, and have more depth.
The Clark Brothers – What Sixwire lacks in “magic”, Dicko feels that these guys have it in spades. Dicko uses the word “magical” several times in relation to the Clarks, particularly referring to lead vocalist Ashley Clark. He loves their humble demeanor, and is only concerned that their acoustic-only sound might hold them back. Would he buy their CD? You bet (along with Franklin Bridge’s). The judges don’t know the number of votes received by each band (Dicko chuckles that the judges aren’t good enough actors to look surprised when the names are read out), but he guessed that The Clark Brothers, Sixwire, and Light of Doom are the top vote-getters. Still, he’s worried that the voters may not continue to support them, and wishes for “paddles, like (the judges have) on Dancing With The Stars.”
Très Bien! – A retro band that’s “diligent in look”, but that’s what concerns Dicko, who thinks that it’s too difficult for bands of this nature to continue to grow and expand their sound, to “reinvent” themselves. Dicko compares them to “a comedy record – once you’ve heard it…”, and likens them to Australian acts Jet and Wolfmother, who have had little success with their sophomore CD efforts.
Denver and The Mile High Orchestra – Dicko’s pleased that the boys took his advice and threw away the red suits and took on a more contemporary look, and compliments Denver on being a “clean-cut, all-American, decent guy” and the band’s “polished, classy sound”. He doesn’t think that Denver is the next Michael Buble, but surprise! – he says that in the short term, Denver & TMHO could be the biggest money-makers of the whole competition. No, he doesn’t think they’ll sell the most CDs, but he truly feels that they could make a very lucrative living performing at corporate parties and events.
Cliff Wagner and The Old No. 7 – Like Denver and TMHO, Dicko isn’t exactly surprised that they’re still around, feeling that there’s definitely a market for their genres, but thinks that the “novelty” of their music does them a disservice with the voting public.
When questioned about whether he felt if the genre-theme weeks were beyond the grasp of the competing bands, Dicko admitted he was initially nervous about having genre-weeks, but says the bands are encouraged to interpret them to suit their own style. He also reminds us that none of the bands have ever been exposed to a nationwide audience, and they need time to grow as artists – he points out that Australian Idol winners from four years ago are just now “ripening on the vine”. Dicko is a believer in constructive criticism, saying that although he’s “the show’s cruel streak” his intent is not to humiliate the competitors, but wants them to be cognizant of the realities of the record industry. “I only kill to eat, not for fun”, he says, adding that the bands aren’t the judges “playthings”, and doesn’t think he’s needlessly cruel. At any rate, he says, “I can’t be Simon Cowell…I can’t wear pants that high.”
Dicko’s a fan of his fellow judges, John Rzeznik (“he’s becoming a firm friend”), and Sheila E., who he reports is a deeply religious woman that abhors swearing – in fact, she has a “swear box” (you have to put money in it if you curse), and both Dicko and John are regular contributors to the “swear box”. He attributes John’s mini-meltdown at the audience a couple of weeks back (at the audience’s loud and unrelentingly negative reaction to the judges’ critical remarks) to over-zealous stage management, which was toned down at their request last week.
Overall, Dicko is proud of the show’s diversity – originally, he was worried that the finalists would be “12 versions of Good Charlotte”, and laments the current, “homogenized” state of the record industry. It’s tough for acts that don’t “fit”, he says, and adds that shows like TNGAB are offering a chance for people who just plain love music. Dicko himself has had a long and colorful career in music, but left the record industry a couple of years ago because of his flourishing TV career. He admits that Idol and its focus on marketable acts caused him to “lose my religion”, and he didn’t listen to music for a year. It was his teen daughters that brought him back – they were listening to The Arctic Monkeys on the radio and Dicko rediscovered his love for music. He had more harsh words for the record industry, saying that they “stuck their heads in the sand” with actions like the Napster court case instead of taking a viable stand (regarding music downloads).
So what’s in store for the final weeks of TNGAB? Dicko told us there’s a Rolling Stones theme week coming up (take that, American Idol!) and that there are some more big-name songwriters that the producers are currently in negotiations with. (This week, the music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – who penned hits for legends like Elvis Presley and The Drifters – is featured.) Dicko’s picks for theme nights would be Johnny Cash, U2, and REM – all fabulous ideas that we can keep our fingers crossed for.
The bands will be doing cover songs only for the next couple of weeks, and one act will be eliminated each week.
In closing – and in honor of the upcoming American Thanksgiving holiday – which two or three bands is Dicko thankful for? He names The Beatles, The Clash, and The Arctic Monkeys – “three generations that have inspired me”. Here’s hoping the bands of TNGAB can someday inspire, as well.
On behalf of Fans of Reality TV, I thank Dicko for his openness, warmth, and of course, his Aussie wit and charm. Cheers, mate.