‘American Idol’ Backlot Talk

Feb 6, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Hello again everybody. It’s time for our talk about “American Idol.” This is Chuck Ross, editorial director here at TelevisionWeek, and once again we’re privileged to talk with Ken Warwick, executive producer and director of “American Idol.”
Chuck Ross: Good afternoon Ken, how are you?
Ken Warwick: I’m very well, thank you Chuck.
Mr. Ross: Fantastic. A couple of real interesting shows this week. We’re going to start with Birmingham, and we’ll just go right into it. It started with Erica, who was the woman who would not stop singing.
Mr. Warwick: [Laughs] I know. It’s amazing; they somehow think that because they keep singing that the judges are suddenly going to have this incredible flash of lightning and change their mind. The truth of the matter is that the judges can actually tell … after about eight bars they can tell if that person’s any good or not. But they just seem to think, “Oh I was just nervous, I didn’t do my best. My next … song is going to be absolutely brilliant, therefore I’ll just plow on and it doesn’t matter what they say, I’ll just keep going.” And it happens quite a bit, I have to say, but it’s never successful.
Mr. Ross: It is absolutely amazing. And then I remember a few weeks ago there was the woman who almost talked herself, well actually did kind of talk herself out of it by singing another song.
Mr. Warwick: Exactly.
Mr. Ross: That happens. Well after Erica, we had that very interesting woman who had that incredibly high-pitched voice, and I think everybody was very skeptical. She sang “A House Is Not a Home,” and Simon said no, but Randy said yes and Paula was the swing vote, and she gave her a thumbs up.
Mr. Warwick: Yeah, well, you’ll find that Paula very often does that if it’s a split. If it’s a split decision, and Paula has the deciding vote, you can bet your boots – I mean if I was a singer, and it was a split decision, and Paula had the deciding vote, invariably I’d be happy because I’d know I’d be going through.
Mr. Ross: So that woman, Katie, she was so unusual having that singing voice that was so different than her very high-pitched speaking voice.
Mr. Warwick: [Laughs] I know, I know! She was a little bit unusual, she was. But she actually did look like a bit of a walking cartoon character, didn’t she?
Mr. Ross: That’s right, so we’ll see what happens. Next came Tatiana, and Randy said she might be the best voice that he heard in Birmingham.
Mr. Warwick: She was very very good considering she was only 17. She was a baby and she’s got a great future, no matter how … some just walk in and you think, “No matter how well they do on this – this is a great opportunity and a great way to kick start into a career – but if they don’t make it here, they are probably going to make it.” And I have to say, I think Tatiana is one of those. If she doesn’t make it with us, I think she’ll make it anyway.
Mr. Ross: Then was Bernard Williams II, and what I thought was interesting was that Simon said yes and Randy said yes and Paula actually said no.
Mr. Warwick: Yeah, don’t ask. I can’t put logic to what they say ever, Chuck.
Mr. Ross: [Laughs] It was unusual. And then of course we had Big Bird … Margaret from Atlanta, Georgia, and that was a little wild.
Mr. Warwick: We thoroughly suspected that she was a little older than she said, but it’s not up to us to bust them, it’s up to the judges to bust them.
Mr. Ross: Well, it gave us all a laugh I guess; it was pretty funny.
Mr. Warwick: A great character.
Mr. Ross: She was; she was fun. Then we had Jamie Lynn Ward, and I wouldn’t be at all embarrassed to say she was sort of a bombshell. She had a very sad sob story, family story, only being 17 years old, but Simon didn’t want her to go on, but Randy and Paula said yes, and we’ll see how Jamie will do.
Mr. Warwick: I think she kind of reminded him too much of Kellie Pickler.
Mr. Ross: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. There’s no doubt about it. Next we had somebody that I think had, in many years, one of the best senses of humor, which was Chris, who sort of looked a little bit like Jack Osbourne, a little bit like Justin, but what a great sense of humor he had.
Mr. Warwick: He’s a bright guy, you know, and he can think. I must be honest, when he walked into the room, I thought, “Here’s another one.” But in truth, when he opened his mouth – that song, he sang “Kiss From a Rose,” that is a very very difficult song to do.
Mr. Ross: I have to tell you, I thought his line was very funny: “I want to make David Hasselhoff cry.” But when he said he was going to sing that Seal song, I figured, “This guy’s history.”
Mr. Warwick: Yeah … so did I. We’ve used that song in a couple previous years in Hollywood because we know that if you can get your mouth around that song, and your brain around it, because the actual inclination of the song, the notation, is incredibly difficult to hear. And the truth of the matter is I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody do it as well as Seal.
Mr. Ross: I agree. It’s one of those songs, as you say: it separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys. I think there’s no doubt about it. At least Chris is going to be fun, and he can sing. So we’ll see what happens. Then we came to the second day. Paula was back in Hollywood, and it came to the two women, the mother and the daughter, with the longest hair I’ve ever seen in my life, Ken.
Mr. Warwick: Strange, wasn’t it?
Mr. Ross: Yeah. And unfortunately Victoria didn’t really sing. Then came, I think Lakia was her name, and she was really bad. Then came Nicole, who was 17, very young, who sang the Bonnie Raitt song, and the judges were nice. They said come back and maybe she will develop something later. Seventeen is very young.
Mr. Warwick: I hope so. She was very young, but she wasn’t that bad at all.
Mr. Ross: No, no. Not at all. Then of course we ended up with Brandy, which, Simon said was absolutely rotten; and the thing where she said it could be the floor and let me sing on the carpet, your heart sort of goes out to her because she really believed that that was going to make a difference.
Mr. Warwick: Tell me, Chuck. What can I say? Don’t ask me to make logic of it.
Mr. Ross: [Laughs] Before we get on to Los Angeles, let me ask you a quick question. Has there ever been someone who’s ended up – because obviously for clearance reasons, we’ve talked to Nigel about this, and because the show can only be as long as it is – you cannot show every single person that auditions. Have we ever had an Idol … who actually we didn’t see the audition?
Mr. Warwick: I don’t think so. You definitely saw Fantasia. You definitely saw Reuben. You definitely saw Kelly. Although Kelly was just one of the bunch.
Mr. Ross: I remember that. And we saw the Idol last year.
Mr. Warwick: And we did see Carrie. So no, I don’t think there’s been an Idol we haven’t seen in the auditions.
Mr. Ross: Very interesting. Well that just shows how good you guys do your jobs, my friend. So congratulations to you.
Mr. Warwick: Not two minutes ago, Kellie Pickler popped into the office to say hi.
Mr. Ross: Oh, fantastic! What a great personality she had, and very few people had that kind of personality. She’s going to be filling the celebrity pages for a very long time I think.
Mr. Warwick: Given her background, she’s gorgeous. I love her to death. She’s a really nice kid.
Mr. Ross: That’s really nice. I got a question for you. We’re going to go to L.A. We have Olivia Newton there, was our guest, and we started off with Eccentric, who was a singer/rapper/dancer, I guess?
Mr. Warwick: Now he totally believed he was special. It’s quite strange really, that you sit back and think, “What it going in his life to make him act like this?” But, well he was certainly entertaining if nothing else.
Mr. Ross: And then I thought we were going to get something with Chalandric, who was going to bring the romance back like Julio Iglesias, but he unfortunately couldn’t sing.
Mr. Warwick: No, it was all in his head.
Mr. Ross: Next we had again I thought some high hopes because we had the daughter of a Gold Digger, I thought maybe a pedigree there, but certainly she was disappointing as well.
Mr. Warwick: She was devastated as well. I think also she thought she was better than she really was. But there was no way. When you look at the quality of the singers we’ve got this year, I mean she was not even in the Top 5.
Mr. Ross: Then we next had Elena, and … what a great story: here’s a woman who, 24 years old, has been doing this for six, seven, eight years, and trying to be a performer, and said, “Maybe I should go back to school, I don’t know where that’s going to lead. I’m going to give this one last shot and see what happens.” And I have to tell you, it’s one of the few times I’ve really gotten a sense … I really think Simon was smitten by this woman.
Mr. Warwick: He liked her a lot, didn’t he?
Mr. Ross: Yeah, but I think even more than just as a singer. He really looked smitten; I’ve got to tell you.
Mr. Warwick: The thing was, she was real. She came in and she openly admitted, “Look, I’ve been doing this for awhile. This is my last go. I’m going to chuck it up and go back to school if I don’t do this.” And she meant it. It wasn’t an act, it wasn’t put on, she wasn’t after any forced sympathy, she was just telling it the way it was, and I think the judges sensed that. And of course when somebody comes in, after so many people are maybe not quite what you expect, when somebody walks in, you think, “This is a nice, well-behaved, talented kid, who maybe hasn’t had the breaks; let’s give her a chance.” And I think that’s what Simon thought.
Mr. Ross: One of the things I think you guys do a really good job [of], Ken, is really giving a sense of, given your time constraints, of what they have to listen to. And clearly they have to listen to so many folks that just don’t hit the mark.
Mr. Warwick: The thing is that our mandate is to show it the way it is. If the predominance of singers that walk through that door are bad, then the predominance of singers you see on the show are bad. We try to keep it to look relatively proportional to what we actually see, because obviously we get a lot of stink from the critics and “Why do you only show bad things?” Because most of the kids who walk through that door are bad singers. We’re only showing you a cross-section of what … and that’s right, in reality, that’s what it’s about. Who walks through that door? Show us a proportion, a correct proportion of the type of people that walk through that door. If you see a show, as you did at the beginning, if 90 percent of them were bad, it’s because 90 percent of them were bad.
Mr. Ross: There was a lot of controversy this week with the US magazine Courtney Love thing. Can you maybe shed a little light? Was she asked to be a guest, or anything?
Mr. Warwick: Chuck, we never ever ever talked to Courtney about anything. Now it’s either her publicist trying to work up something or – she’s a talented girl, don’t get me wrong – but no, the whole thing came out of total fresh air for us, it was a total shock to us. Nigel had never spoken to her. Maybe somebody had phoned her up and said that they were Nigel, I don’t know. But the truth of the matter was that we had never ever had any dealings with her whatsoever and the whole thing came out of fresh air. We were as surprised as everybody.
Mr. Ross: I just want to bring up two more folks. One is Brandon, who was the back-up singer, sang “Always on My Mind;” I liked that voice a lot. And Simon said maybe we’re going to see him in the finals.
Mr. Warwick: That you will. [Laughs]
Mr. Ross: And the last thing I wanted to bring up was Sherman. What a really really moving piece last night. I’m so glad you guys did that. It just shows how “Idol” has really permeated our society here, and that was just a really sweet story.
Mr. Warwick: It was a nice story, wasn’t it? Because normally he’d have been shown the door, but it was such a lovely story. And he did have that petition of all those people, so…
Mr. Ross: Hey look, he can sing better than I can … and for those of you who don’t remember the name, Sherman was the 64-year-old who his partner had…
Mr. Warwick: Just a few days, I think, prior.
Mr. Ross: Right, and had been in cancer, and one of the things that kept her going was this petition he had tried to do to get on “Idol.” And he got on the show and did sing, and I thought that was handled very nicely and gracefully by the judges as well. Anything you can tell us about San Antonio? And then we’ll call it a day.
Mr. Warwick: No, just watch it. It’s good fun. Like all the others, it’s a good place to end up on and it’s a good venue to propel us into the Hollywood realms.
Mr. Ross: Fantastic. Ken, we cannot thank you enough for doing it, and another dynamite season. Thank you so much my friend.
Mr. Warwick: Take care, mate. Bye bye.

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