Here is part 2 of the media interview with Nigel Lythgoe. In this chapter, Nigel dishes about the potential for an American Idol all-stars.
I wanted to ask you, because you keep talking about somebody who was eliminated who was your favorite, and you thought would be in the top five. Simon actually said when he was over here that this young girl named Bailey Brown whoís 16, he said sheís a record producerís dream, made to be a pop star, etc. That was one of his favorites. I keep thinking that when you talk about the girl who was eliminated because sheís so young, I thought maybe she would forget her lyrics.
Can I say sheís from Texas?
Nigel: Hmm. I really hope that Ė please trust me when I say that I donít want to say anything regarding an individual, or name somebody, because it could affect them in the competition should they return.
Thatís okay. Thereís older people, of course, allowed on the competition now Ė
Nigel: I think thatís brought us some more maturity and a little more professionalism in certain areas. Weíre happy about that. I wouldnít mind extending it even further next year, to be honest.
You would go to 30?
Nigel: Yes, I would. Iíll have to discuss it with everybody else, but I donít know why 28. I really donít know why 30. But I guess weíre just about managing to cope with the hundreds and thousands that weíre getting at the moment. Opening up any more and Iím frightened to death how many people weíll get.
Would you say that itís tougher for somebody, even though the person may look good and sound great at 16, or 17, to make it beyond? Is it just a tougher thing for a young person?
Nigel: I donít know. I think youíre very resilient. People talk about kids, and I work with kids on, ďAmerican Junior.Ē Thereís exceptionally resilient. You canít knock a kid down really. I think you get tired and a little more jaded when you get older, and you feel as though itís your last chance. That can be very emotional and affect you greatly in this competition. Whereas the 16 year olds bounce from one thing to another, they donít know half the music theyíre singing. I remember Lisa Tucker last year, we gave her, ďWhatís It All About, Alfie?Ē A Burt Bacharach song. She sang it brilliantly, didnít understand a word she was singing probably, but sang it beautifully. Thatís what they do, they just take it in, sing it, and, ďNot good enough.Ē ďOkay. Well Iíve got the rest of the my life to get it right.Ē But when youíre a bit older itís just where someone knocks you, you just say, ďOh my God, thatís it, Iím never going to make it now.Ē Itís a bit heart rendering.
Iím wondering if thereís ever been any talk of trying to do some kind of All Starís addition of American Idol, like is popular with so many other reality shows? Maybe reuniting rejects, or anything like that. Have you ever thought about it?
Nigel: Youíd never be a television producer, you canít call them rejects.
Nigel: Yes it has. Itís something that Iím trying to make work this season. Theyíre talking about doing a song competition on the Web, and have people write songs for the next American Idol finale. Because whenever they come out and sing a song on the American finale, the only buddy criticism Randy Jackson can do is, ďI donít like that song.Ē Thatís not very helpful. Theyíre going to be putting it out next week and trying to sell it, and hereís you saying, ďI donít like the song.Ē
So the way to do it, some bright spot thought, why donít we let America choose the song theyíre going to sing, as well as their idol? Then we sort of encapsulate the whole thing. My idea was, okay, well give me ten songs, and I will bring back ten Idol finalists to sing them on a special, and then America can really see them rather than just have them on the Web and download them or whatever. Letís see Constantine Maroulis again, letís see Ace Young, letís see Vonzell, Tamyra Gray, and all of the great people that we voted for over the years. Iíd love to do that. And with good reason at the end of the day for doing it, which is to produce the song that the next American Idol is going to sing.
So is that happening? Or thatís just in talks?
Nigel: Iíve pitched it to Fox, and Fox hasnít come back to me yet and said yes or no.
I was wondering, the ratings go up every season but Kelly Clarkson is still the biggest star to have come out of it. Is there so many people coming out of it right now, and have similar stories and similar backgrounds, everyone has seen them on the show, that it takes somebody like a Daughtry to come out and get people a different flavor to break out and become a bigger star?
Nigel: I think, at the end of the day, and we say this so often, that American Idol is a wonderful springboard to somebodyís career. But itís a television show. You donít have to pay any money to enjoy the television show, or to vote, or anything else. The minute that they become the Idol, or come out of the television show, youíre then asking the public to put their hand in their pocket and buy records, DVDís, or whatever, of these kids.
At that point you have to have something unique for your audience. It changes, and the audience changes. It changes to people who buy records, not the people who watch television. So if you have the appeal of, and as you rightly say, Kelly Clarkson is without question, at this moment in time, the biggest star out of all of the American Idolís. Carrie Underwood did three million sales of her album. This girl is a huge star. Sheís winning all of the country awards. I think she will have a great deal of longevity with her career too because sheís in a genre of music that really cares for its stars and looks after them for a long time.
I think Daughtry is going to be very big as well. As you, again, rightly say, he offers something unique. It will be interesting to see how Taylor and Katherine McPhee do. I believe Elliott Yamin has also got a recording contract. Kelly Pickler has done well and got a number one. Last season was pretty good for people that didnít make the Idol.
Weíll just have to see. Clay Aiken is still doing well with his Barry Manilow following. Itís just great for me, and I feel very proud, and I think it validates the show to see so many of them doing well. Fantasia, I believe, is going into the ďColor PurpleĒ, Oprah Winfreyís musical on Broadway. She had the biggest Lifetime movie or something I read somewhere.
Jennifer Hudson with ďDream Girls.Ē Who would have dreamt? Who would have said, and we laughed about this the other day, if you would have said, ďThe American Idol team will win an Emmy for American Idol or Jennifer Hudson will win an Oscar when she left the show.Ē You would have put money on the Idol team winning an Emmy. Well, letís hope Jennifer wins the Oscar.
There was a lot of criticism, especially after the first week of the cruelness of the judges Ė
Nigel: I think thatís spinned out a bit of self-publicity for Ė I canít even remember her name, so it shows how much it affected me. We were no crueler this year than we ever have been any other year. I seem to remember when Mandissa got through, Simon Cowell saying that, ďTerrible, weíre going to have to strengthen the stage when she walks on it.Ē That is part of the entire critique of American Idol. It is always been, for some people, cruel, and for other people, honest. But this season, for me, no more and no less.
It seemed as if less of that was aired over the succeeding weeks. Was that in response to that, or was all of that edited?
Nigel: No, the shows were already edited. I have never let anybody tell the American Idol team how to make American Idol, and weíve never heard anything from Fox to say to do it this way or do it that way. It was always going in there as a very British angle to the show. When we came over here they knew we were bringing Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell is nothing if not honest. The first season he was booed, the second season he was jeered, the third season he was cheered, fourth season everybody said, ďYou know what, you say all the things that I would like to say.Ē Fifth season it was, ďYouíre saying everything Iím thinking.Ē Sixth season, ďItís youíre crueler than you normally are.Ē Well, the answer is no weíre not. Then the criticism this year, I think, has had a little more focus to it. Thatís why itís being accepted by the media that theyíre crueler.
The ďbush babyĒ comment, for goodness sake, is not even Ė he came out and said, ďHe called me a monkey.Ē Well, a bush baby isnít even a monkey. A bush baby has got rather beautiful big eyes, and that is not a criticism as far as I can see to say he looked like a bush baby. If you talked to any animator, they will say that they will draw big eyes on anything that they want you to love. If you look at Bambi, ET, or any other creature thatís created, they drew big eyes on it, because itís loveable. So I didnít class it as a derogatory comment when he said it, and I still donít.
Iím just wondering, the bigger the show gets, is it harder finding a hotel to accommodate 172 people when you go to Hollywood?
Nigel: Yes. Yes. And Yes. Weíve actually had more than that. One season we had just over 200, because there are no restrictions on it, to be frank with you. We donít say, ďOh, you can only put 20 through today.Ē And we donít say, ďYou can only cut ten today.Ē The first day of Hollywood was like a hot knife through butter, they just chopped so many out, we were all sort of left devastated and shocked at the end of it.
So 172 is about average, but it just gets harder. The whole thing just gets harder every year because we never know how many are going to turn up. This season was just huge in everywhere that went. Even to the smaller towns. If the lady is still on from San Antonio, forgive me for thinking of you as a smaller area, but that was a huge turnout as well. Thereís no getting away from the spotlight. Iím certainly not complaining about that, because weíre absolutely delighted that season six were bigger than ever. It is a phenomenon.
Have you determined who gets paired up in the hotel rooms once you actually get them to Hollywood? Do they have a curfew? Do they have to be in bed by a certain time?
Nigel: To be frank, I donít know. The curfew isnít in place when they are doing their groups because we like to get them exhausted. The whole reason for doing groups is that when you get through to American Idol, and youíre on live television, you go through that process. The day after your show, which is a Tuesday, that night youíre given a song to learn, in a group for the next day for the results show. Sometimes, a big long medley. We donít really want to give you that to worry about before you do your own performance on the Tuesday.
So the stress and the strain of that Tuesday night after the show is enormous on the kids, and we want to make sure that they can cope with that. So we put them through that terrible, ďWeíre going to shove you in a group. See if you get on with people. And weíre going to keep you up all night singing it, and then weíre going to be rude to you the next morning and abuse you the next morning.Ē That is what the actual show does.
I donít think a lot of people realize how tough it is once you get into the top 24, and the top 12 is even tougher. Now, youíve got to learn songs and sing them in front of a major star who you may have loved all your life, and be told itís not good enough. Then get through that whole week. Theyíre doing the Ford stuff, theyíre taking out to premiers that they probably donít want to see, and it is a tough, tough week. The more successful you are, the tougher it gets. So we have to know that people can cope with that.
It sounds like fun.
Nigel: Well it isnít. But, hey, at the end of the day you become a star. Or certainly a celebrity.
Most of my things have been asked and answered. But I did just want to, and I apologize for going back to this guy Akron, but could you just clarify if he was told back in November that he wasnít going to be continuing on with the Hollywood rounds, why was it that his audition was still part of the show last week?
Nigel: Because it was a very important part of the show last week, it showed something that was unique.
Donít people get invested in someone like that, and then they feel that the rug is pulled out from under them. If you are watching this guy, and rooting for him, and then you find out, ďOh my God, heís not on it anymore.Ē
Nigel: So theyíve got another 174 people to get invested in. I donít want to cut out what is a good story for that show. Donít forget, as far as Iím concerned, we deal with three series here. It isnít just one big American Idol series. Iíve always looked on it, and Iíve got my team to look on it, that the audition process is one part, thatís itís only little series, as far as Iím concerned, moving through to the top 24 is itís own series, itís a different set, itís a different set of rules for the kids that are involved in it, and then going into the top 12 is yet, again, another series that is where the star is born.
So I donít ever really put the fun, the silliness, the cheekiness, of the audition process in with the top 12ís. That has its own area and its own story. A lot of the people that youíre invested in in that area in Hollywood will just disappear. Sometimes they donít even give reasons why. Thereís just no time. Theyíve got three days to get it down to 24. It is, ďNo, thank you. No. Goodbye. Thank you.Ē Itís the same way as I lost my favorite this year. That is just the way the competition goes.
As I said to the other lady, I cannot show you 174 peopleís stories. So, as far as Iím concerned, investing in that boy at that point was what Iíd like you to do, but I would have liked you to have done that with a lot of other people that are going to disappear in Hollywood week. Thatís just the way the show goes, and itís been like that for six seasons now.
I donít necessarily agree with it. Give me another 48 shows and Iíll show what actually happened in Hollywood.
So, technically, you could have gone back to edit, but it was such a strong story that you felt people would want to see it.
Nigel: As I said, itís like a lot of other people, their stories are in there because I believe itís a good story that will disappear in Hollywood. This boy has just been pulled out because he disappeared before Hollywood. But people are in there that you will not see who you might be invested in on the audition trial.
Thank you to FOX for letting us participate in this call.