“American Idol” wants to get back to the music.
In bringing on pop diva Jennifer Lopez and rock bad boy Steven Tyler as the show’s new judges, the “Idol” exec producers said they were looking for a panel that boasted plenty of experience navigating music stardom.
But the real change agent for “Idol” appears to actually be Interscope Geffen A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine.
Iovine has some big ideas on how to bring excitement back to the music on “Idol.” And having just been named the show’s “in-house mentor,” he’ll be in a position to do something about it.
Iovine is plotting a dramatic overhaul with Fox and “Idol’s” producers in terms of how artist development is injected into the proceedings.
Iovine won’t serve on the judge’s panel but will play an influential role guiding this year’s “Idol” contestants.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at a press conference announcing Lopez’s, Tyler’s and Iovine’s new gigs, returning “Idol” exec producer Nigel Lythgoe admitted that the show had turned into a bit of a karaoke competition.
And it shows: In its early days, “Idol” discovered superstars like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. But the competish’s more recent winners have found diminished success in the music world.
“We’re not looking for somebody who sings like Whitney, we’re looking for originality,” Iovine said, adding later, “We’re trying to make the music better. It’s 100% in the interest of the audience that the music get better. That’s what this is all about.”
The music industry vet is tapping successful producers like Timbaland (who attended the presser) to work with the “Idol” contestants as well.
“We’re going to have the best producers in the world working with these artists,” Iovine said. “There will be a remarkable difference (in performance) from week to week, much different than previous seasons. It’s an entire new construct.”
With Iovine playing a large role, Lythgoe said “Idol” will no longer utilize guest mentors on the show.
Among the new “Idol” players, Iovine may also have the most to gain: Interscope is handling the marketing, promotion and distribution of music from “Idol” stars as part of Universal Music Group’s new deal with the show.
“We were always jealous of this show, watching Sony have this platform,” Iovine said. “From our perspective, (it’s an incredible) opportunity to have a platform like this for music.”
Among other changes, contestants will no longer be asked to sing different musical styles outside of their wheelhouse; individual “Idol” episodes will focus on broader themes, such as decades, instead of music from individual artists or genres.
“(Contestants) will stay with what they believe and Jimmy believes is their genre,” Lythgoe said.
Lythgoe and fellow exec producer Ken Warwick also promised more movement from the contestants, who are going to have to express more showmanship in their performances.
“I’m sick to death of them standing behind a guitar,” Warwick said.
As for the judging mix, while Iovine will play the role of industry exec heavy behind the scenes, a Simon Cowell-free judging panel will likely focus more on constructive criticism and less on harsh words.
“The days are gone of kicking someone in the testicles,” Lythgoe said.
Lopez said she believed “in tough love,” but also didn’t think “as an artist that I can ever be cruel to another artist.” Tyler also focused on the positives he sees in finding a new round of talent.
Lopez and Tyler stepped on stage at the Forum on Wednesday and confirmed what everybody already knew: They are your new “Idol” judges, America.
Fox Networks Group entertainment chairman Peter Rice admitted that the news was a bit anticlimatic, given that Lopez’s and Tyler’s names had been out there for weeks. But he also added that when Lopez’s name first surfaced, he hadn’t even talked to the star yet.
But eventually Lopez and Tyler did indeed enter Fox’s radar — and once the network made a firm offer in late August, Rice said the dealmaking “was closed within days.”
“Rather than replace Simon with a Simon clone, we thought having superstars searching for superstars would be interesting and exciting and intimidating for the kids,” Rice said. “Steven and Jennifer have a wonderful chemistry and they’ll be great with Randy. That relationship will evolve.”
Lopez, meanwhile, finalized a $12 million judging gig that also tied a larger deal the star has signed with 20th Century Fox Films and Fox Broadcasting. Deal gives her Nuyorican Prods, a first-look arangement with the studio for film and TV projects. That pact was announced by Fox Filmed Ent. Chairmen/CEOs Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, as well as Fox Networks Group entertainment chairman Peter Rice.
Fox alternative prexy Mike Darnell dismissed ongoing speculation that Lopez’s diva-esque demands had put the brakes on her deal.
“The deal was not tough,” Darnell said. “There were no diva demands. It was an easy, comfortable deal.”
Lythgoe called the rumors “rubbish,” while Rice said Fox was stuck in catch-22: It couldn’t deny the diva rumors, as that denial would confirm that they were talking with her. For her part, Lopez said she was “used to” the gossip.
In deciding to join “Idol,” Lopez said she took a beat — but eventually decided, with help of husband Mark Anthony, that the show repped “another evolution” in her career.
The performer said she was also drawn to the idea of spending more time at home with husband Mark Anthony.
“We get to be in one place with the babies for a while,” she said. “This will put us here for six months, which is unheard of for us.”
Tyler, meanwhile, admitted that word of his invovlement with “Idol” put a strain on his relationship with his other Aerosmith bandmates. Fellow Aerosmith star Joe Perry has publicly criticized the decision.
“At first, they were jealous,” Tyler said. “They heard it through the press, not me. But four months ago, they were looking for a new lead singer. Things go up and down. We live on the tail of a comet. They’ve been judging me every day — sometimes it hurt, but most times I came out of the wormhole stronger” I’m sure they’re happy for me.”
As for Jackson, the last remaining original “Idol” judge called the show’s revamp “the remix.”
The official Lopez/Tyler announcement puts to rest the non-stop speculation over who might replace exiting judge Simon Cowell. The names have ranged from industry vets like Tommy Mattola to music superstars like Elton John and Justin Timberlake.
Many of those names were pie-in-the-sky ideas that were never really real. Others were producer dreams, hampered by the reality of those stars’ schedules or interest.
“Idol” host Ryan Seacrest admitted that he even floated some names out there, to see if there was a leak within his family. The host — and it was unclear whether he was joking — placed the blame on his sister for the Elton John speculation.
In the end, Fox, FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment opted to go with household names in both Lopez and Tyler. Neither can be said to be at the top of their careers at the moment — hence their availability for the “Idol” gig — but neither are considered washed-up either.
The commitment is also believed to be pretty unintrusive: Lopez’s deal, for example, has been reported to be just one year.
But Fox stepped up the pomp and circumstance by finally trotting out Lopez and Tyler (along with Jackson) at a heavily orchestrated event, tied to Wednesday’s Los Angeles-set “Idol” auditions.
Tyler told Seacrest that he wanted to “be a part of something much bigger than yourself.”
“I want to bring some rock to this roller coaster,” Tyler said.
Asked about chemistry between the new judges, Jackson noted that he’s known both Lopez and Tyler for some time. The producers aren’t planning on throwing the new trio behind the camera for any test runs but will simply see how things go once they sit down later this month for the show’s televised auditions.
“Jennifer and Steven have made the journe
y from aspiring unknowns to global superstars, which makes both of them uniquely qualified to help discover the next ‘American Idol,'” Rice said.
Darnell called Lopez “impossibly glamorous, yet totally relatable,” and said Tyler would “add a unique edge to the new judges’ panel.”
Nonetheless, the decision to go with celebs reps a change from “Idol’s” original judge makeup. When “Idol” debuted in 2002, Cowell and Jackson were unknowns, while Paula Abdul’s career was on the skids. That allowed much of the focus to center on the contestants — and year one’s yield included Kelly Clarkson, now a major pop star.
The addition of Lopez and Tyler could threaten to overshadow the contestants — but the interest in how those two take to judging may also help give the show a ratings bolt.
It’s no secret that “Idol,” while still potent, has taken its ratings lumps in the past year or two. A lackluster crop of contestants is mostly blamed, although exec producers (in particular, Lythgoe) have also expressed concern that the judges’ antics were taking precedence over the wannabe performers.
Lopez’s and Tyler’s arrival comes as Fox and the producers take a look at ways to tweak “Idol’s” format.
“American Idol’s” year of confusion began in January, when Cowell crashed Fox’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour to announce his departure from “Idol” — and a new deal at the network to finally bring his hit U.K. franchise “The X-Factor” to the States.
“I’ve said all along that at the end of this contract I’m going to leave the show,” Cowell said at the time. “Everyone thought I was negotiating” (but) I felt like doing something different.”
Cowell’s exit added a bit of drama to what already promised to be an unusual “Idol” season, with the addition of new judge Ellen DeGeneres filling the hole left by the exiting Abdul.
But the DeGeneres hire didn’t pan out, as the comedian ultimately couldn’t find her groove with the show — and she ultimately bowed out from returning for another season.
“Idol” also saw its fortunes dip, even with Cowell’s swan song, as viewers didn’t get nearly as excited over this past season’s competition.
“Idol’s” 2010 finale, in which 24-year-old Lee DeWyze was named champ, put up big numbers, as usual. But the show logged its lowest-ever demo scores for a finale and its smallest overall audience for a season-ender — a little more than 24 million — since its first edition in summer 2002.
Even Cowell admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he was “bored” at the end of the show’s run.
Attention turned to the summer to Cowell’s replacement. Ultimately, “Idol” would go through a much bigger shakeup — as if Cowell’s exit wasn’t enough.
First up, Lythgoe, who had ankled the show two years earlier, was brought back as an EP along side creator Simon Fuller, FremantleMedia’s Cecile Frot-Coutaz and Warwick.
Then came the DeGeneres departure. And after Lopez and Tyler were firmed up as judges, Kara DioGuardi was let go after two seasons on the show. According to insiders, it was felt ultimately that the Jackson-Tyler-Lopez judge trio would work best for the show.
In January, Fox alternative prexy Darnell said he would look to find a judge to replace Cowell that would come from a completely different stripe. In other words, the network wasn’t looking for another nasty Brit.
“We’ll come up with a new vision for the judging panel,” he said. “You can’t replace him, or people will smell that.”
Lopez and Tyler are definitely cut from different cloth than the acerbic Cowell.
In discussing Lopez’s addition to the show, Lythgoe told Daily Variety earlier this summer that audiences “know she’s a good actress. And as J-Lo she had some great pop records. If she joins, I’m happy.”
And in the case of Tyler, Lythgoe said he liked the rock star’s unpredictable persona.
“He has come through that whole rock ‘n’ roll circus,” Lythgoe said. “Why wouldn’t you want a legend there? You never know what he’s going to say. That, as a TV producer, you’re interested in.”
Lopez, of course, began her career on Fox, as a Fly Girl dancer on “In Living Color.” She then ventured into acting, starting with Fox’s “South Central” and then films such as “Selena” and “The Wedding Planner.” She entered the music arena beginning with 1999’s “On the 6.”
Lopez’s career has slowed down as of late, however. That includes both in film and in music, where here latest release has been delayed.
As for Tyler, the musician’s legendary band, Aerosmith, released its first record in 1973; after a string of hits in the mid-1970s, the band fell from grace — only to mount a major comeback in the late 1980s. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, and Tyler was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Singers.
Lopez and Tyler bring music biz cred to the proceedings, but rivals still sniff plenty of blood in the Cowell-free waters.
“You have to look at what’s going on at the competition to know that it’s not necessarily as scary in the spring as it has been,” NBC U TV Entertainment topper Jeff Gaspin said this spring.
Because “X Factor” won’t bow until fall 2011, Fox will go through the 2010-2011 TV season without Cowell regularly in its schedule.
Ultimately, Fox ideally hopes its “Idol”/”X Factor”/”So You Think You Can Dance” trifecta will provide year-round ratings dominance for seasons to come. But “The X Factor” serves as a nice dose of primetime insurance if “Idol” starts rapidly sliding.
Lopez, Tyler and Iovine will now bring their music biz cred to the proceedings, but it remains to be seen whether the renewed focus will result in another Kelly Clarkson — or if auds will miss Cowell’s acerbic touch.