Now that American Idol's Season 11 has reached its Phillip Phillips-y close, it’s time to recognize that our judging panel could very well be a different, potentially scary place next season. We’ve already seen rumors about Jennifer Lopez giving up her spot and Steven Tyler has yet to put ink to paper for his third season stint. Of course, Randy Jackson and his “Yo” pin collective have set up a permanent residence in that third spot, so at least we know we can depend on hearing “You can sing the phone book,” “This girl’s in it to win it,” and “I loved every minute of it!” all next season. But someone needs to take one of those remaining spots in the case that Lopez or Tyler should jump ship. Idol fans across the board have been buzzing: Maybe one of those un-gripped Coke cups can find its way into Idol mentor and mega producer Jimmy Iovine’s hands for Season 12. But the real question is: Would it work?
Hollywood.com hopped on a conference call with Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe, and if you ask him, the answer is a resounding “no.” Lythgoe says Iovine serves as his system of checks and balances. “If [the judges] screw up I’ve got Jimmy Iovine on the sidelines ready to castigate them, and I like that position,” he says. “A lot of people have suggested that Jimmy comes on as a judge. I would hate that. That wouldn’t allow me to ask somebody what they think about the judges.”
Iovine himself also weighed in on the prospect of being a judge, and unsurprisingly, it’s not his cup of tea. The mega hit maker said on a conference call that he’s “most impressed” with “the A&R process that these judges collectively do.” And that’s exactly why he wants to stay on the mentoring side. “What they do is so difficult,” he says. “To go on the road and listen to people sing a capella — thousands of them! — I couldn’t do that.”
Besides, he truly loves the mentoring process. “I’m — whatever you call it — a mentor, a coach, an executive producer, a producer … I’m in the creative process. I’m on their side,” says Iovine. However, the judges have significant power in shaping how Idol’s audience perceives the contestants. (Though that seemed to backfire a bit for Joshua Ledet, who was sent home just before the finale.) Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have someone who really understands the behind-the-scenes process (and can communicate that knowledge more effectively than Randy can)?
Maybe so, but Iovine is not ready to change gears. The 59-year-old says, “Not right now. I like working with musicians. And I like the creative aspect of what I do on the show.” And his knack for telling contestants the truth they don’t hear from the judges' table is exactly why we want to see more of him. But according to some of his former mentees, he needs to stay right where he is.
“He’s not called Jimmy Iovine for nothing. He knows what he’s talking about … and sometimes in a mean way, but he’s just straight-up about it,” says Hollie Cavanagh, who came in fourth place this season. The pint-sized singer sustained some of the more harsh constructive criticisms from Iovine during Season 11, but she was quick to note that it was all for the best.
And we agree with Cavanagh, but that’s why the question of placing him at the judges table even exists. We know he’s an expert, and we want to hear more of his nuggets of wisdom. Still, if Season 11’s Skylar Laine has her way, Iovine will just keep on mentoring. “I think he could switch over to judging, but when he’s a judge, he can’t do mentoring,” she says, adding, “They should keep him as a mentor because he really helps people and he gives good suggestions.”
Even if we could get past Idol contestants and Jimmy Iovine himself on the Jimmy-for-Judge bandwagon, Lythgoe seemed resolute about keeping him in the behind-the-scenes capacity. And in truth, it’s probably for the best. Iovine’s criticisms are often a little tough, and if taken to the judges’ table, he risks being branded as another Simon Cowell, whose criticisms were more famous for being mean than for being right.
As long as Iovine and his collection of dad-approved baseball caps are on Idol, they belong in the mentoring corner, where his job is more centered on actually building the contestants’ abilities, and less about figuring out which singer “slayed the biggest fish of the night.”
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.