On Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in a media call with Nigel Lythgoe. You will see there was a pretty prevalent theme among the questioners, the same questions many of you had for him. Iím really excited about this season and hopefully it turns out to be as good as he predicts.
Well, there are three people with Atlanta connections. Iím just going to ask you your thoughts on Alex Lushington, Carly Smithson, and Michael Johns? Have at it.
N. Lythgoe: It think theyíre all extremely strong. Alex Lushington is young; sheís 16 and still remarkable. Sheís one of those that took us a little bit by surprise by how quickly she realized what she had to do to get through the competition, and that is come out there and really perform every time. Thereís no let off. And she was brilliant at that. Carly has been around, and has come to us, sheís had a recording contract in the past. She came to us a couple of years ago. We thought she was terrific then. She did a Prince song and really sent chills down us, and then we lost her because of getting a visa. Sheís overturned that now and here she is. I think she stands a very good chance this year. Sheís already quite known by the public, which always helps a little bit, and sheís got a lot of talent. So weíll see how she does.
Did it bug you that people were buzzing about her past contract, and all that, or was tható?
N. Lythgoe: No, this is something that comes up for some reason every year, and this year, oh, theyíre all professionals. Well now, Kelly Clarkson had a contract. From year one, all we say is you have got to be out of contract now. Every year thereís been somebody thatís had a professional contract or even got an album out there, so no, it doesnít worry us in the slightest.
Michael Johns is another one.
N. Lythgoe: Michael Johns, wow, when he sang ďBohemian Rhapsody,Ē I thought it was one of the best renditions Iíve ever heard, so amazing. There you go; from Atlanta youíve got an Irish girl and an Australian boy.
Itís really bizarre that they have both lived here at some point.
N. Lythgoe: Isnít it? And a load of Brits making the show; itís an international show this.
You donít think thereíll be any backlash from Americans if Michael and Carly make it pretty far? You donít think theyíll not vote for them because theyíre not U.S.citizens, or does it matter?
N. Lythgoe: Weíve never said you have to be U.S. citizens, youíve just got to be legal to be in this country. But as most of this country is from somewhere else, I canít see what the backlash is.
I want to ask you about Josiah. What was the decision behind giving him so much airtime? He was on for three or four different shows.
N. Lythgoe: Great story. Itís always the same decision. Editorial decision is based on stories. Itís the same way as sometimes thereíre about six of the top 12, top 24 youíve never seen, maybe six boys and six girls. Itís just about stories. Thereís a certain amount of airtime. Weíve got to cover four days of taping in two hours, and itís one of the most interesting stories and we all felt that Josiah was a major story.
What was the decision ultimately between Randy, Simon, and Paula as to why he didnít go through?
N. Lythgoe: I donít honestly know. I donít get in their heads sometimes when they make votes, and they do vary and they do change their minds. I think it was the voice wasnít strong enough in comparison. It was harder than ever, I think they had more rows this year because the talent is unique, and itís not just a blanket of good talent, that there are standout people.
Itís the same way as they argued about Kyle. Kyle, for me, and obviously for Randy and Paula, was a sort of geeky one, and he might have been the one that people would either be attracted to or say what on earth is he in that top 24 for? And they rowed about that quite a lot, with changing their minds backwards and forwards, and they did with Josiah. But the voice itself, it was such a strange voice because heíd turned into an Englishman when he started singing, but it was very shaky, and then he didnít sing the right tune when he dismissed the band. They take everything into account like that, and theyíre subjective.
I just wanted to tell you on two of the top 24 guys, Jason Yeager and Jason Castro are both from this area, and sadly for us theyíve only gotten about 12 seconds of airtime so far.
N. Lythgoe: Yes, weíre destroyed and distraught about certainly Jason. When he sang a song in his audition, and then he sang the same song, and brilliantly at Hollywood week, and then he decided to do one of his own songs, so thatís what we were left with to show. The song that he chose was the same as Asiaíh, another young lady, and David Archuleta, and the song was ďCrazyĒ by Gnarls Barkley.
Gnarls Barkley is made up of two DJís, Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse, and itís owned a third by Public Domain, which they originally took the tune from, I guess, and then each one of them, Cee-Lo cleared it, Public Domain obviously cleared, and we said ďYes, go ahead and sing the song, itís okay.Ē And then Danger Mouse came in and said, ďNo, I do not want you to use the song.Ē We put it on DVD and sent it out to him and said, ďPlease look at these three; theyíre fabulous. Itís one of the best performances weíve ever had.Ē And he said, ďNo, I donít want you to use it,Ē so we couldnít show any one of them singing it. There was nothing we could do about that.
What would you say to contestants like that who now seem to be at a disadvantage?
N. Lythgoe: I say Kelly Clarkson won.
And she wasnít shown that much.
N. Lythgoe: She wasnít shown at all. Youíve got to be as good as you can be on every single performance. There is certainly, I would say an edge on having a story, but at the end of the day itís how you come out this Tuesday and this Wednesday and sing your song.
I wanted to go back to Carly Smithson real quick. I think that thereís a big backlash against her online, not only because she had a contract formerly, but because it was a major label deal and millions was spent on her marketing and she sort of seemed as this major label kind of washout. And then I was wondering if you could speak about already the backlash thatís kind of built up against her, and whether or not thatís going to playó?
N. Lythgoe: Itís an online backlash. We talk about getting between 35 million and 65 million calls. I really donít think online, even when you have a complete online focus like Vote for the Worst, has any effect on the show. There are too many people who vote. What are you talking about when you say online, a million?
So much has been written about her already.
N. Lythgoe: But thatís all right if you Ö online market. With viewers of 30 million people watching, and votes of 65 million to 75 million, weíve had calls and broken all records with that. Theyíre going to have to decide is she good enough to be on the show? Itís not whatís happened in her past. Sheís not breaking any rules of the competition. I donít see the logic.
Is her past going to beó?
N. Lythgoe: I donít see any logic in that. The rules of the competition state you do not have a contract now. Goodness me, if Elvis Presley came back and was out of contract and was able to participate through age, then he would be in the competition.
Is her background going to beó?.
N. Lythgoe: Nobody said this is an amateur competition. This is something that people are making up for themselves. It doesnít matter if youíve had a professional contract. Kelly Clarkson had a professional contract. Bo Bice had a deal. Taylor has got records that are out there. This is nothing new.
Is her past going to be discussed on the show?
N. Lythgoe: Weíre doing everything about who they are and what they are, weíre not ignoring anything. We never do.
One more question about Josiah, who did become a very popular contestant. Can you at least tell us how heís doing, and his whereabouts and future plans, if possible?
N. Lythgoe: I honestly donít know. Iím afraid when they leave us, contestants leave us. Otherwise, Iíd be worrying about 100,000 contestants every year. So it is a question of good luck with your career, and weíll see you again.
Sorry to beat a dead horse here, but in terms of the Carly issue you just did, the number of people who have won other reality shows, etc., how transparent do you intend to be about this stuff going forward? Donít you think both itís fair to let the audience at large know tható?
N. Lythgoe: No wait. Iím sorry. You obviously werenít listening to the last call.
I was listening to the last call, actually. I was listening to your answer. You say you havenít left anything out, butó
N. Lythgoe: We have never not shown their past, when we can. There is nothing wrong with saying sheís had a deal and she didnít get anywhere in that deal and now here she is. Iíve got no problems with that whatsoever, and lots of contestants that were on Pop Stars, and when Pop Stars was here we always showed and we tried to show them on Pop Stars. David Archuleta won Arsenio Hall when he was 11. Thatís fantastic. Thatís all part of their career. Iím not worried about that. I donít honestly know what the angle is, because all weíre saying is this girl is extremely talented. Itís within the rules of the competition, whatís wrong with it? Sheís not broken any rules.
Are the contestants going to be able to use instruments this year?
N. Lythgoe: Yes.
During the production?
N. Lythgoe: Yes.
Did you see Paula at the Super Bowl, and what do you think of her revived career as a singer now?
N. Lythgoe: Iím delighted for her. I didnít see her, Iím afraid. I was actually auditioning for the dance show. But Iím delighted for her.
I wanted to ask you about two types of music. One is, is it important to the show when you have good rockers? Some years you have strong rockers like Bo, and Chris and some years you donít. Is that important in general? And does it look like maybe with Amanda Overmyer and Robbie Carrico youíve got stronger out-and-out rock-and-rollers this year?
N. Lythgoe: I think itís important that we have character in the music, that it isnít just bland, and if itís rock-and-roll then let it be rock-and-roll, and if itís good country, like Bucky, he was an out-and-out country guy, that for me is good too. So where you have good characters and hooks for people to latch on to, thatís important. I think Amanda really is the real deal and a good singer and good character. And Carrico, Iím not sure heís as strong as a Bo Bice, but he is in that category for me.
I know in previous years it seemed like the girls have had an edge over the boys and this year it seems to sort of be the reverse. I was just wondering what you thought about that, and if you had anyone or your top five that you really want to watch in the competition?
N. Lythgoe: I donít want to name names because Iíve got to work with them all, and at this moment there are 24 of them and Iím sure Iíll upset 19 of them if I start to name five. But what I would say is in watching them work this week, and I agree with you, or I did agree with you, that the boys seemed to have the edge, but the girls have been fantastic this week. The girls have really come up. Itís a í60s week, and there are some great songs there for them, and theyíve chosen some very interesting songs as well, but they are very strong.
Can you talk a little bit more about the use of instruments? It kind of puts somebody whoís sitting at the piano at a disadvantage to people who are moving around.
N. Lythgoe: Well, if it did, I wouldnít sit at the piano, would you?
Well, I guess not.
N. Lythgoe: What we always do on this program is give them their choice, thatís all we can do. And anyway, some of them probably canít play anyway, so itís just allowing somebody to show the complete range of their talent. Australia did it last year and really did well with it. We did it, as you know, in the Hollywood week. Some people crashed and burned and other people sort of came across okay. I think Brooke sitting there singing her little song was lovely. David Archuleta sat there and sang ďCrazy,Ē we couldnít show it because we couldnít play the song, but again it was something really good. Jason played the guitar, and we couldnít show that. Where it works, it works, and where it doesnít, itís outstandingly bad. It gives something else, another little contentious side.
Syesha Mercado is from our area, and I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about her strengths and weakness, especially coming off Hollywood and her voice trouble.
N. Lythgoe: I think you saw her there, that she battled through, and I donít know if she was being very cleaver because she wouldnít talk to us in the morning of the final audition and just wrote little letters, but then came out and sang up a storm, and we were all wow, terrific, thatís how to do it. Also, it was a good story, when you do something like that you know itís going to be in the show. But the first couple of days she really did have a hard time, and the judges let her off on the second day, they really let her off because she really couldnít sing, little notes squeaked out. But I think thatís very good temperament of battling on and fighting, and sheís certainly extremely talented.
Youíve already talked about editorial decision based on compelling stories. Donít you think America, the home of Rocky and other comeback stories would find Carlyís comeback kind of compelling, and if so, why havenít you mentioned it yet?
N. Lythgoe: We have.
During her segment, itís been mentioned on the show?
N. Lythgoe: Yes. Weíve shown her when she first came back in the day to now and done that whole issue, yes.
Youíve got 16 year olds and 17 year olds in this competition, how are the younger contestants faring, and is there such a thing as too young?
N. Lythgoe: In the dance show I take them from 18 because I really want them to focus on what theyíre here for, and that is to dance. In this competition they have to still go to school, and itís really tough on them to do their schoolwork during a morning and then come onto the stage and then go back to schoolwork. Their parents are here with them as well, taking care of them. I think itís really tough on 16 year olds and 17 year olds. Theyíre asked to work harder than anybody else. At the same time, weíve found that they actually step up to the plate all the time and are exceptionally good. In previous years, I remember Paris, who was absolutely sensational, and the same year as her was a young lady called Lisa, and they worked brilliantly. Iím sure this year the kids will do very well.
I want to ask you about Brooke Helvie, our beauty queen. Sheís saying she told one of our columnists that she felt that she had been portrayed unfairly, and that she wasnít half as goofy really as she was portrayed. Can you tell me a little about that?
N. Lythgoe: I canít, to be honest with you. We just tape what we get.
Have you named any mentors for this year?
N. Lythgoe: No, we havenít.
I know youíve said youíll have fewer.
N. Lythgoe: Weíll have four.
We blog and write quite extensively on American Idol, some writers have told us they were disappointed not to see the group performances Hollywood week because they thought that it showed a lot about the personality and character of people who were forced to work with other people. Why were those cut, and do you have an idea you might some day bring them back?
N. Lythgoe: Maybe. They were cut because we wanted to get the best singers that we could get, and we watched last year and realized that people were being cut on that day because they couldnít remember lyrics, and that is really not the reason to get rid of people, as far as Iím concerned, on the show. Itís got to be their talent that lets them down. We donít ask them to spend a night with two other or three other contestants arguing and haggling out chorography during the season, so why would we do it there. It was always done for the contentious side of it, to get the rows, to make them extremely tired, and see how they coped under the pressure.
This year we just wanted to base it on talent, and I think the proof is going to be in this season. I think every year American Idol, a bit like a high school or colleges, is going to have the season of 2006/2007, this is the 2008 season, and I think itís going to be a very strong one. And I think that was aided by the fact we didnít mess around with the groups, and that we concentrated on their performances and giving them a second opportunity to sing. The nerves come into play on that first couple of days and people just get cut willy-nilly, so we said, this season give them a chance and if theyíre terrific put them straight through to the last day, if not, give them the opportunity of coming back and singing again, and thatís what we decided to do.
I wanted to ask you about Colton Berry, heís from around here, and it sounds as if when you were talking about Kyle before that you agreed with Paula and Randy that he was the better choice. I was just wondering what do you see as his potential, and do you think that he might have an underdog appeal because he was the last guy chosen?
N. Lythgoe: I donít know if heíll have an underdog appeal because he was the last guy chosen. He might have the underdog appeal because he is an underdog. For me, he and Garrett are two quite shy guys that we havenít really seen come through yet, both extremely talented. Colton reminds me of Boris Becker, the old German tennis player. Heís an interesting character and then all of a sudden you realize heís got a really good voice. But this show requires more than that at the end of the day. It needs that charisma coming across, and giving the audience a reason for getting off their backsides and picking up a telephone and voting for them.
Sort of following off what you just said, some of these contestants didnít get a lot of airtime during Hollywood week and now they get their one shot, so both the men and the women are doing í60s week. Is that correct? Do you think theyíre going to get the opportunity to let America get to know them with one quick song?
N. Lythgoe: Thatís what everybodyís got to do, unfortunately. Theyíve got a little package beforehand where they talk and put their personality out there and say what their hopes and their dreams are, and then theyíll go into their song, and then it is up to America. Thatís the same as it is every single year; itís no different this year than last year or the year before that, and theyíve just got to do it. As I said, Kelly Clarkson did exactly the same thing.
Carlyís visa issues from two seasons ago are like Hokís visa issues from So You Think You Can Dance. Any provision now where those things have to be checked out pre-audition, or were those just unique cases?
N. Lythgoe: Well, no. People come along and they donít always know that their, you know, she believed that her visa was right, as did Hok. They both believed that they were eligible. We didnít have to show the story when they didnít get through. We showed the story because she was a great singer and weíd lost her, that was the reason for showing it two years ago. But we get an awful lot of people that come along ineligible, some of which we drop into montages, some of which we drop onto the floor. Thereís no issue there for me.
I want to approach the whole experience question from an entirely different angle. Do you think that to some degree the Michael Johnsí, the Kristy Lee Cookís, the more experienced contestants might have a disadvantage because one of the good things about the show has always been the growth of the less experienced singers?
N. Lythgoe: It balances out, to be honest with you. You never know who is going to grow. You never know who is going to fall. If you look at each season, something different happens. If you look at LaKisha last season, she was far and away above everybody else, she came out there, sang the Jennifer Hudson number, gosh, a lot of people said sheís the winner, everyone else can go home. And then you watched her just pull up like a good racehorse just before the finish line and start slowing down and everything else in the whole field takes over. Other people, like Vonzell from another season, no one had ever heard of her, and she came up and I think she was third at the end of the day. And each week sheíd grow. Jordin grew every week last season.
You just donít know whatís going to happen. It comes with the excitement, the growth of them feeling and getting much more and more confidence. We still donít know what talent is in these kids. Even the ones that have auditioned before and maybe come close to recording contracts or have been given recording contracts probably have never had the intense training and being thrown on a stage live in front of millions, as is going to happen to them over the next few weeks. It makes and breaks.
In your opinion do you think that Paula and Simon and their chemistry or not chemistry has been toned down a little bit this season or are they still kind of fighting as much as ever?
N. Lythgoe: Oh no, theyíre fighting. Itís the same thing. In truth, thereís a boredom factor that creeps in during the day because you can get bored just listening to song after song after song. And then they start picking on each other. Some mornings theyíll come in and they immediately hate each other for no good reason whatsoever, and heíll turn his back and slouch and sheíll be powdering her nose and ignore him. Another morning theyíll come in lovey-dovey and start kissing each other, Ö makes me sick sometimes, but by the end of the day they will both fight for what they want. And as you saw in ďThe Green MileĒ, I mean, Simon didnít get his way over one of the kids, and he was moody as hell, as I guess we all are a little bit when we donít get our own way. Itís just a natural reaction over the years of being together, with Randy as well. Randyís sort of oil over troubled water that sort of smooths everything out, but people get annoyed with him because he is just that and thereís no edge to him sometimes. So Paula will turn on him and say, ďFor godís sake have your own opinion.Ē Itís a dysfunctional family, we say it every year, and they are, and then they all ride Ryan as well because they say heís insincere.
I just wanted to get some information from you on the extended results show, youíve extended those to an hour. And youíve said thereís only going to be four mentors, and I gather thereís not going to be as many big name performers, like J. Lo as weíve had in the past. How are you going to run those for an hour?
N. Lythgoe: We never felt comfortable with doing the 21 minutes or something, which is the American half hour. The American hour is something like 38 minutes. Obviously, I wanted you to know the contestants an awful lot better this year, so weíre doing major packages on them and weíre also doing a package on where are they now. So where is Kimberly Lock now, what is she doing? Where is Diana Degarmo now, whatís she doing? I want to make it much more about American Idol every season, and bring back people that we have known and see what theyíre up to. So thatís a major part of it this year.
I just wanted to find out how the U.S. contestants compare to the U.K. contestants.
N. Lythgoe: Thatís a tough one. Each year I am surprised and gratified that the talent just keeps coming, and weíre a much smaller country in the U.K. and there is a smaller talent pool. Here it is topped up every year because youíre allowed to come at 16, and the sort of David Archuletaís and the Alexandrea Lushingtonís and that that have just joined us now, well they were nine when we started here and ten. Now theyíve watched this show all the way through their little lives, and finally come on it. And theyíre brilliantly talented, so that talent keeps coming up with each year. It comes to us.
In the U.K. we really had to go out there and find it, and put notices out there all the time to please come weíre auditioning, and you kept your fingers crossed, and it was the same people auditioning for Pop StarĒ as it was auditioning for Pop Idol as it was auditioning for Grease is the Word, or whatever other show was on. It was just the same small amount of people. Here it just goes on and on and that talent pool is incredible. To be frank, theyíre much better singers, and I think thatís because of the church upbringing as well. Theyíve learned so much, and Iím shocked at the talent, and really sad to a certain degree that the record companies havenít been going out there and finding it.
In the last few years with Top 24 you guys have never really done a theme week, itís kind of been free choice. Why the decision on that, and then also will there be a full band?
N. Lythgoe: There will not be a full band; it will be a five- or six-piece. Again, each season we like to grow, and donít forget in our Top 12 we have got a brand new set, brand new opening titles, so itís going to feel like a spring cleaning, a breath of fresh air is going to come in.
And the reason why weíve done it like this, they still have their own choice of song, but weíve given them a genre that is a little more musical with songs that we know, because asking America to vote on a performer they donít know, with a possibility of a song they donít know we felt was not right, and there was some strange songs and strange choices being picked. And then we have got to go out and clear them, and try and sort all of that out. We didnít want to take the risk of not being able to clear songs that were chosen, and then swap the song at the last minute on one of the contestants, which weíve had to do in the past. So weíve said, ďOkay, these are the 50 songs you can chose from from the í60s,Ē and thatís what weíve done.
Thank you to FOX for allowing us to participate in this media call.