‘American Idol’ Backlot Talk

Jan 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Chuck Ross: Hi again everybody. It’s Chuck Ross, editorial director here at TelevisionWeek. We’re on here with Week 2 with “American Idol” and Nigel has joined us, Nigel Lythgoe, who is the executive producer. Before we start talking about American Idol, I really think “So You Think You Can Dance?” came into its own last year. I just thought it was a terrific season you did over the summer.
Nigel Lythgoe: Thank you very much. We had a great time making it and of course with people like Benji on there coming through and winning at the end, it sort of validates it because they’re such great dancers.
Mr. Ross: Right, and you look at what’s one of the more popular movies right now, it’s “Dream Girls.” It has wonderful dancing on there, and I think people are in the mood for some dance.
Mr. Lythgoe: They certainly are. And “Dancing with the Stars” was great last season as well, so we’re just helping each other.
Mr. Ross: Well, some very interesting contestants I think this week. We’re on the beginning weeks of “American Idol” and this week, we start in Memphis. We started with a guy, Frank, who sort of did an over the top, corny thing, I think is what Simon said, and I didn’t disagree. I think Memphis was a tough town for you guys.
Mr. Lythgoe: You say that, but I think at the same time, we got some great talent out of Memphis. Everywhere has been tough this season, really. I think we’ve had some really interesting characters, not as much talent as I would like to have seen. But the ones that we have, I think stand out like little jewels. If you look at Sundance, who came out of Memphis, he was fantastic.
Mr. Ross: Oh yes, there’s no doubt about it. That, I think, surprised the viewers quite pleasantly; and he was just terrific.
Mr. Lythgoe: You always get the deluded ones. You always get the poor guy who thought he was going to be the next Elvis Presley and [thinks] he should be put through because he loved Elvis.
Mr. Ross: Exactly. And I’m not real familiar with “Treat Her Right,” which was by Sundance’s dad. I guess he had a hit with that before he was knocked off the charts by I guess The Beatles.
Mr. Lythgoe: That’s right.
Mr. Ross: I agree. He really had a beautiful, beautiful voice singing “Stormy Monday,” and I think Simon thought he was better than this year’s American Idol.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well, Simon’s got a thing about Taylor, only because I think he turned him down in the beginning and doesn’t sort of want to admit that the guy he turned down became the next American Idol. But that’s great. That shows that everyone’s human; you can make mistakes.
Mr. Ross: Another person who I thought did pretty well was Danielle, who sang “Baby I Love You” in Memphis.
Mr. Lythgoe: Yeah, she’s a good girl, isn’t she?
Mr. Ross: Yeah, I thought so as well. And then, as you said, it was a mixed bag. I want to jump over to New York because boy, that was really, I thought, quite something.
Mr. Lythgoe: Can you believe that I’m sitting there in the audition room and in walks the guy, my bete noir from New York, that came to “So You Think You Can Dance?” and I said, “You’re wasting our time” there. He walked in, and if anyone TiVoed it, check it out again, because as he walks in the door, he sees me sitting there on the side and nearly chokes.
Mr. Ross: Did he not realize you were with both?
Mr. Lythgoe: He didn’t know I was going to be sitting there. And he walks in, sees the judges, sort of is ready to attack them, but then he just catches me out of his eye and just gulps. So I knew he was gonna be terrible and boy he was. But, I do find him entertaining in a very rude way, you know?
Mr. Ross: I know exactly what you mean. I thought New York had some incredible touching moments, starting with Sarah and the cell phone call to her dad. How could you not be moved by that?
Mr. Lythgoe: I was thinking, if I was her dad on the end of the phone- she was so apologetic at the beginning and wasn’t telling him why she was saying this. It was like, “I didn’t go to school. I didn’t do this…” Darling, just stop and tell me what has happened; what is wrong? But she finally got to it and, “I went to ‘American Idol’.” He must have been so relieved when she said that.
Mr. Ross: Exactly, he was just thrilled. I thought that was just a great moment and something you can only get from a 19 year old, I think. And then was the Ashanti thing. Obviously she had been on the show before and boy, you just sort of have to…I felt for her, I did, but I think the judges made the right decision, but I did feel for her.
Mr. Lythgoe: I felt for her in sort of an afternoon soap way. I was like a telenovelas thing, that’s why we put that music there. It was a bit too much for me.
Mr. Ross: And then of course we had the two best friends. I think they were both terrific. I think Simon literally has something for that Antonella… I think Simon actually really finds her attractive, but they both had nice voices and Antonella especially is just gorgeous.
Mr. Lythgoe: Yeah, it’s quite interesting that Antonella’s friend was the trained one and Antonella hadn’t trained; and there was a quality to Antonella’s voice that I thought was better.
Mr. Ross: Let’s now jump to Day 2. Can you illuminate us a little bit about why Simon wasn’t there in the beginning?
Mr. Lythgoe: No, apart from he flies in and flies out because he was doing at the same time “The X-Factor” in the U.K., so this thing called “jet lag” really hits in, and what happens is you wake up at three or four in the morning … and then, by about 9:30, 10 o’clock, you’re exhausted again. And he wasn’t due in until 11, and obviously he just crashed.
Mr. Ross: Well Day 2 started with Henry- who has the very touching story of being adopted and from Bolivia and everything and he’s saying, “I’d give anything to fall in love”- really nailed it I thought.
Mr. Lythgoe: Yeah, and I was surprised. He’s another sort of 16 year old. You go, “Wow. Looks about 22.” A very good voice, I thought it was perfect timing not to have Simon there because he could sweet talk Paula and not get himself into trouble with Simon.
Mr. Ross: The next contestant, I must say, was one of the moments that I- and there’s so many of these moments, and these people, they’re so frustrated and you sort of feel for them, but I actually thought, at least for this season, the first really genuinely poignant moment I thought was with Nakia because I thought, she started there, singing and dancing in the street, and everybody loved it. She had all this high energy, guts and gusto and then she sang the second song, and it’s clear what her limitations were; and everybody makes that second plea, but I really thought that was poignant. I was really moved.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well I think what it showed was that if you’ve got one song, and you’re doing it well, stick with that song. I think the judges were pretty good in asking for that second song. It’s their job to weed out and decide who’s going to go through to Hollywood. And that situation really showed that if you’d have taken her on the first song, she would’ve died when she got to Hollywood because she was so out on the second song, it was so poorly done.
Mr. Ross: But I was so moved when she kept repeating, “You know, you get tired of hearing no.” And it’s just not about singing, it’s obviously about her life struggle, maybe it’ll make a movie, but I was just so struck by that.
Mr. Lythgoe: Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from. That was a brilliant moment when you suddenly realized that she was extending outside that audition and talking about her real life.
Mr. Ross: And what makes what you guys do so wonderful Nigel, is the fact that you caught that on tape and you left it in. Good for you guys. Next we had Sarah, and that was one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen on this show where she sing the song. Carol says, which was a really smart thing to say, “Do you really think you can sing?” “Well of course I can’t sing! I’m tone deaf!” And yet she thinks she should be the next American Idol. That was one of the most surreal moments I’ve almost ever seen on television.
Mr. Lythgoe: It’s this whole belief that you don’t have to be a great singer to be a star, or the next American Idol. Everybody thinks you can do these things in a studio. “Alright, I sing badly, but you can get somebody else to sing for me, I’ll mime or…” It’s crazy. But she truly believed that her personality could turn her into the next American Idol. But it’s the frustration, didn’t you find? She was so frustrated by this.
Mr. Ross: It was amazing, truly surreal. Maybe she’ll realize that as some point. She’s not a dumb person, but it’s just so odd to me. I want to jump a moment to Christopher Henry, which obviously had that little fight we had between Paula and Simon. I have to tell you, Simon did come across even more insensitive than he usually does. He should have let Randy and Paula explain to this gentleman with his female-sounding voice what maybe he can do with that.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well, Simon couldn’t quite believe that everybody thought this guy looked like Simon. And he didn’t, really. He may have looked a little like George Michael, I don’t know, but it’s very strange; he actually sang that song better than Kelly Clarkson did…and certainly better than Justin Guarini did. But what a strange voice. I don’t like him saying you should wear stocking and heels and a nice dress…it’s not appropriate, but it’s the first thing that came into Simon’s head and you’ve got to forgive this sometimes, because in an effort to find something to say, we overstep the mark. And it’s not our job as producers to edit those things out. We have to let it be as natural as we can. That’s why it’s called a reality show. So sometimes we disagree with what Simon says, but we’re not then going to be the editors of that.
Mr. Ross: You have two New Yorkers: you have our friend from Queens, who trained like a soldier…and I think threw them all for a loop just with her body when she walked in.
Mr. Lythgoe: Yeah, she really worked that. How long did she say she’d worked for, a year, on this? Stunning.
Mr. Ross: Incredible, and we’ll see how she does moving to Hollywood. And then the other New Yorker was Rachel, who was the opera singer…
Mr. Lythgoe: What a great character she was, don’t you think?
Mr. Ross: Yeah!
Mr. Lythgoe: I thought she was a little like Alanis Morrissette when she started; I didn’t really like her middle song of “Get Here.” But then her opera was brilliant.
Mr. Ross: For me, who can’t sing, someone who can do three different styles like that, I’m just blown away.
Mr. Lythgoe: The only problem with that is, when you come to record, what are you actually going to record, and what voice are you going to use? Because every style that I know, sounds like that style on every record that they sing. And if you’re going to go changing your voice, why would you do that?
Mr. Ross: I loved the montage about “All Night Long,” I thought that was wonderful.
Mr. Lythgoe: What we does is we say, when you come along to the audition, you’re going to do the song you’ve chosen to sing, but we’d also like you to sing this song. And on this occasion it was “All Night Long,” because we want to test out your memory, because on the day after, on the results show, you will be singing a song that you will learn overnight. …
So we want to make sure-they’re going on live television-that they’ve got a good memory, and are able to master the lyrics of any song. So we give them the lyrics, and they sit there all morning or all afternoon and they learn the lyrics and they come and sing us a little bit of the song. But what happens in that, is their memories do go, and we do have the funniest moments ever, which is why we do that. But they do that, in truth, before the judges judge them, so that does not come into their audition.
Mr. Ross: Thanks for telling us. I appreciate that. Speaking of forgetting lyrics…Nick showed back up, who bowed out last year in Hollywood having forgotten the lyrics to “Buttercup,” and hopefully he’s got another memory; he got passed onto Hollywood, we’ll see what happens.
Mr. Lythgoe: And they weren’t hard lyrics…I think he may have a bit more trouble, that boy.
Mr. Ross: I agree, it’s not like learning the “Star Spangled Banner” or “God Save the Queen.” And then we had Chris. If I was a judge, I would’ve probably passed on him, but everybody said yes and Simon said “You might be someone who can surprise us in Hollywood.” We’ll see.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well I think there’s a quality to his voice. I’m not sure he sang as well as he could do. So we’ll see what happens to him.
Mr. Ross: And finally…I thought you did save the fantastically terrible Isadora for last. I still don’t know what that was all about.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well you know, we said this is the end of music as you know it, and it sure was. I mean wow. Every season we get somebody that just knocks us off our feet, and that young lady certainly did. Nobody could quite believe where she was taking music.
Mr. Ross: Any further details you can give us about the song writing contest?
Mr. Lythgoe: I know that it’s going to be done on a Web site. I’m not sure where yet. And then we are hoping, once the Top 10 songs have been chosen … it’s going to be offered to America to decide what should be the “Idol” song this year and hopefully Ken and I will be making a television program at the end of that to feature those 10 songs.
Mr. Ross: That’ll be great. We’ll be looking forward to that. What can you tell us about what we’ll see next week in Birmingham?
Mr. Lythgoe: [Laughs] I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises of Birmingham. I can tell you there’s some very interesting footage regarding … do you remember “Sesame Street” and Big Bird?
Mr. Ross: Yes, of course.
Mr. Lythgoe: Well, wait and see, Chuck. Wait and see.
Mr. Ross: Well Nigel, I think your laugh there told it all. I can’t thank you enough for doing this. The season is terrific. The viewer response is great, and we’re looking forward to another terrific season, and we’ll talk again next week.
Mr. Lythgoe: Chuck, thank you very much. Have a great week.

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