DarkMode/LightMode
Light Mode

Randy Jackson’s Ready for Another Season of ‘Idol’-ization, Dawg

American Idol ‘s sixth season, which began Jan. 16, is in full swing. Get ready for another year of hopefuls and heartbreaks, but hopefully no William Hungs. Randy Jackson gave a conference call to preview the new season. He’s toured the country on auditions with Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, but now it’s America’s turn to vote on the semifinalists.

It’s been a good year for Idol, with former contestant Jennifer Hudson reaping oodles of acclaim for her performance in Dreamgirls, and recent winner Taylor Hicks topping the charts, even earning a Weird Al parody. There’s no substitute for the live performances, but Jackson came close with his articulate, descriptive preview of things to come.

Hollywood.com: Simon has bitched and moaned about the guest judges that you guys bring in during auditions. Do you mind the guest judges or could you live without them yourself?
Randy Jackson:
I think I could definitely live without them. I mean the show works because it’s the three of us on the panel and kind of what we do and how we interact. I don’t necessarily think that we need guest judges. I think when people come into the arena that we judge in, it’s often a little awkward and a little hard for them. I think people look at the show as a fan and go, “I could do that. I’d love to be there.” It’s almost like saying I could be a pitcher or I could win the Cy Young Award. Actually, I couldn’t. I don’t even know if I could pitch little league. I mean, yes, you could do it, but is it going to be great or are you just there for the TV face time?

- Advertisement -

HW: How many days do you spend at each audition city and how many people do you see in each audition city?
RJ:
We spend about two days in each city. We generally see about 200 people a day. Yes, that’s a lot of singing, dude. A lot of being sung at.

HW: Every year they make a few tweaks to the show. Anything new this year that we can expect that you know of?
RJ:
I’m going to wear more yellow and lime green in honor of Gnarls Barkley. I’m going to come dressed like a Jedi every week like Gnarls Barkley. No. We have a few things that we change, but I think the formula is pretty much what it is. I mean you’ll see a couple of wrinkles here and there, but of course, I can’t tell you what that is.

HW: The success of the show continues to surprise people every year that it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. How long will that continue and what would have to happen for the show to suddenly not be as successful as it was the year before?
RJ
: Listen, I mean, I think this is the greatest music talent show ever, right? I mean I know that me, Simon, and Paula, we never really think about the ratings or look at that or whatever. I think we just go out and kind of do what we do. I think there’s an abundance of talent in America and there will never be not a lot of talent out there. I mean, you see what’s happening to Jennifer Hudson, who didn’t even win that year. That tells you right there there’s a lot of great talent out there. It’s just about finding it. I think the show can continue to be successful as long as we go out and find great talent. I don’t know what the numbers are going to be each year. I don’t even think about that really, because American Idol is a search for the next superstar. It’s not search for the next ratings boost to me. Do you know what I mean?

HW: Did any particular genre shine during the auditions?
RJ:
This year it’s really weird, man. We had some of everything. There was, of course, more rock guys because of Chris Daughtry and stuff that happened. I think there were a couple of more kind of Taylor Hicks kind of guys, I mean that were kind of in the middle somewhere, but it’s the same thing. I think fortunately for us every year, the show gets more validation because people see that there’s great people that have won and gone on to great careers. So we get a lot more talented people every year, I feel.

HW: Have you had a chance to see Jennifer Hudson since Dreamgirls came out? Have you had the chance to commiserate with her at all?
RJ:
Yes. I went to the premiere here in LA of Dreamgirls and talked to her for quite a long time and then I saw her at a dinner, the Carousel of Hope Ball here in LA that was honoring Clive Davis and Quincy Jones. We talked for a long time there. She did say, “Thank you for making me your wildcard pick,” because sometimes we forget. Years go by. She was my wildcard pick that year. I just say to all of them, “Make sure you make the right record.” That’s what it’s all about. We talk about it on the show and we get a lot of flack from it on the show, but it’s all about great songs on the show, great songs after the show. That’s what makes hit records, great songs.

HW: How do you explain Jennifer Hudson losing American Idol and now blowing away Beyonce in Dreamgirls?
RJ:
Me personally, I don’t think she blows away Beyonce in Dreamgirls. I went to the premier of the movie. I think she’s amazing in Dreamgirls. I think that Jennifer Holiday, who originally sang the song, was equally, probably even more amazing, because it’s harder to be the original one than to be the second or the third one. I think she’s done amazingly well, but I remind people every time the girl that won, her name was Fantasia Barrino and if you want to know why she won, go back and listen to that “Summertime” version that she did. It’s the best Idol performance to date. That’s why she won.

- Advertisement -

HW: Are there songs that you’re just sick to death of from American Idol by now?
RJ:
Yes. There are a lot of songs that we’re sick to death of during the auditions. We mentioned “At Last” by Etta James, which is an amazing song, but people just butcher it. “Fallin” by Alicia Keys, people just butcher that. There are tons of songs that people butcher and I have heard no one yet to ever sing a Mariah Carey song and do it justice. The one thing that I know, being a record producer, is that every kid out there in America knows every song on the radio right now. You could say, “Sing “Promiscuous” to me. Sing “SexyBack.” They know all of that. But if I go back and say, “Listen, let me hear you sing some Nat King Cole.” “Who is that?” Or better still, “Sing me some Beatles.” “Who are they?” “What?” Then it creates the challenge part of t he competition. Having them sing whatever songs are on the charts is boring because I know they already know them. I know those.

HW: Who will everybody be talking about as far as how bad he or she is?
RJ:
You know, every season there’s a number of those. You’re going to have to judge this time for yourself. There are a number of those. I’m telling you wonders never cease to amaze.

HW: Do you like these guys or do you just think they’re ridiculous and wasting your time?
RJ:
I think for the first five seconds or so you like them. You think it’s funny. You’re laughing. Then you go, “Okay. Come on. What is this?” You just know that people watch this show from year to year. You’ve seen Kelly Clarkson. What is she? She’s great. You see Fantasia, Clay, Ruben, now Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Clay, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks. These people are great. Then you go, “You’ve heard them.” Then they show up and they’re really horrible. You go, “Something must really be wrong with their hearing.” Then you start thinking, “I wonder what they’re seeing, too.” Maybe they have me and Simon confused.

HW: Do you at least get less of that these days or does it seem to always be a consistent?
RJ:
No. Listen, I think you have a great competition that you can become a celebrity overnight and get a huge record contract and become very rich and famous fast. I think you’re going to get a lot of people showing up. You get the good and the bad of it always. I mean the scale definitely tips both directions.

HW: Why do you think those people are willing to set themselves up in such a way?
RJ:
I’ll tell you, I think William Hung has helped a lot of people. Really. I mean listen, the guy made a career out of being just absolutely one of the worst. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how. It’s amazing to me. I don’t know. I wouldn’t show up if I didn’t think that I had the talent, but they’re hearing something different in their heads I’m convinced.

HW: If you hear 200 auditions a day, how can you give equal time and your attention to the 200th person. Aren’t you just dying by then?
RJ:
Fortunately for us, one of the things that makes this show really, really cool is that myself, Simon, and Paula are really 25-year-plus music industry veterans. We’ve done every facet of it. There’s nothing we don’t know about the music business. So me having been A&R guy for 15 years and also being a musician myself and being on a countless number of auditions when I was growing up, you’re used to doing it. I put bands together. I just had Mariah out on tour with a huge band. I mean it’s what I do, so I kind of know how to pace myself by this point.

- Advertisement -

HW: Since the show’s been on so long now, does that make contestants more savvy about how to handle it, or are they still like newborn lambs every time?
RJ:
It’s funny you say that because every season I think they get a little bit more savvy. I think that’s what I was saying earlier to someone is that, but somehow the people from the south still keep it honest and real and the Midwest. They’re not as savvy, but I think a lot of these people watch and they go, “What did so-and-so do? What did they like that so-and-so did? I’m going to follow that and copy that. You liked it when so-and-so did it.” As if this is the way to kind of get through. I think we see a lot of that happening, I think, unfortunately. There is a lot of good information given by us three judges on the show and I think people should take that more to heed and listen to more of what we have to say in our comments to the kids. They’ll learn way more from that than anything, whether they’re on the show or not.

HW: What’s the advice that people most ignore that you wish they wouldn’t?
RJ:
Song choice, song choice, song choice. Understand who you are, because what you tell me as a judge when you sing a song that’s way too big for you, you tell me you have no idea how good you are and what you sing best, so you just told me you have no idea what you’re doing. I’m going to imagine that almost every time you’re going to pick the wrong song for you.

HW: Back to the bad singers for a moment, they’re always a staple but are you trying to draw the line somewhere?
RJ:
I think you’re still going to get some of that through because we see a cross section of everyone and it’s hard to just stamp that completely out, but I think if someone walks in the door and they’re in this weird costume, there was the gondolier one season in Vegas, you just go, “Okay, do you believe that you really have talent or are you here just for the buffoonery of it all?” Do you know what I mean? I think we’re trying to draw the line somewhat there. If you come dressed as a tin man I’m going to go, “You’re not a singer.”

HW: There’s also a song competition going on at the same time. Will that diminish the singing competition?
RJ:
I don’t know if it will diminish the impact or whatever. I think great songs are still hard to find. I wish everyone luck in either writing or whoever is going to submit out there or whatever. I think it’s really, really hard. I mean I’m a songwriter myself, so I know how hard it really, really is.

HW: Of all of the people who have been on the show, winners or not, do you have a favorite?
RJ:
I think what comes to mind really quickly is my two favorites probably hands down are Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia.

HW: Are you in touch with either one of them?
RJ:
I see Kelly from time to time and I see Fantasia from time to time. She sang a duet on the Sam Moore album that I produced about six months ago. Yes, I see them quite often. I see all of them quite often. Those two girls’ voices are just amazing and I’m really pleased and happy what’s happened with Jennifer Hudson and how she’s kept her career and her life going and how she’s blossoming now. I think it’s great.

HW: What made them the standouts to you?
RJ: