‘American Idol’ Backlot Talk

Mar 6, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Chuck Ross: Hi again everybody, it’s Chuck Ross, editorial director here at TelevisionWeek; and we’re on the line again with one of the executive producers, and often director, of the number one show on television “American Idol,” Mr. Ken Warwick. How ya doin’?
Ken Warwick: I’m good mate, thank you very much.
Mr. Ross: First off I have to say I was a little worried after last week that this was going to be a route with the women, but the men really stepped up this week.
Mr. Warwick: Yeah, well to be absolutely honest, it does happen quite often that the first show of these weeks is terrifying for the kids. It’s the first time they’ve walked out on a television studio, they know there’s 30 million people watching them, you’ve got all those cameras looking at them, they know that Simon’s going to step it up this week; so they come out and the truth of the matter is the first show, whether it’s boys or girls, it always a bit rocky. And whoever is on the second night, they’ve had a bit more chance to get used to it; they know what to expect. So invariably, whoever’s on first, comes back the second week. They know where the benchmark is and they know they’ve got to throw caution to the wind a little bit and not be too safe and just go for it. And that’s what the boys did a little bit this week; they were unbelievably better than they were last week.
Mr. Ross: It was like night and day, beginning with the very first singer, which was Phil Stacey. And it’s interesting: Randy and Paula come alive; unfortunately Simon was not too impressed this week.
Mr. Warwick: Well he has weeks like that, doesn’t he? I thought Phil was very good. It’s difficult when the first singer comes on because you’ve got nothing to compare it with. If you say it’s fabulous and then the next person comes on and blows you away, then you’ve got little place to go. So Simon’s always a little bit cautious with the first singer.
Mr. Ross: Next came Jared with a great Marvin Gaye song, and again I don’t think the judges were too impressed. I loved his comeback though when Simon said that it reminded him of “Love Boat” and he said, “Well, I would’ve been a great ‘Love Boat.'”
Mr. Warwick: [Laughs] I have to say I did think he was an awful lot better than he was last week. I wasn’t impressed with him last week, but not only did he sing well, but he looked good this week.
Mr. Ross: Another person I thought was definitely better this week was AJ, and I think the judges agreed that he really did do a much better job this week.
Mr. Warwick: He did. He was a lot more comfortable with his song, wasn’t he? Yeah, he’s got a good voice; he has got a good voice.
Mr. Ross: Next we had Sanjaya who sort of slowed it down, and I think he had a little bit of trouble this week. He’s only 17 years old and I think it was tough for him.
Mr. Warwick: Yeah, it was tough for him. He sang a song that really was probably not the best for him and his style; he went retro on us, he put his Frank Sinatra hat on. And Simon said that he looked like a kid that was dressing up for his mom and dad. And that unfortunately was how it came over a little bit to be honest. But he’s a good-looking boy, and the girls love him, so who know what’s going to happen.
Mr. Ross: Next we came to Chris, and I think Chris really stepped up to the plate this week. I think he did a song that really reminded us why he’s on the show.
Mr. Warwick: Chris Sligh we’re talking about, yeah?
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Mr. Warwick: Yeah, he did a song that Taylor did last year: “Trouble.” And to be honest with you, I liked it better than I liked Taylor’s version.
Mr. Ross: I agree with you. It was a better version.
Mr. Warwick: Of course Chris, let’s not get this wrong, he’s a musician, he’s in a band and he’s had experience. So he knows how to put over a song.
Mr. Ross: Next came Nick; and Nick is an interesting guy because he had the trouble last year in Hollywood, he’s there now with the 20 left and Simon said, which I thought was not a bad comment, that he really needs to work on a charisma factor.
Mr. Warwick: He does. That’s a problem. He’s got a lovely voice. He sang “Fever.” He’s got a lovely voice. He needs to step up his performance; he does. It wasn’t the level we were expecting it to be, but if he sticks around, he’s got another 10 weeks to go, so he’ll be up there at the end.
Mr. Ross: Blake I thought was interesting for reasons that really surprised me. Simon did not like his singing and thought it was sort of a copy-cat, but I thought he did a real good job again this week.
Mr. Warwick: So did I. And you’ve got to remember that a majority of the public won’t know that song very well, and he did put it over well. He was good; he performed well even though he kind of mixed a scat in with his scratch stuff in the middle, boogie box stuff, but I thought he was good. I really enjoyed it.
Mr. Ross: Then next we had Brandon doing the “Time After Time” song and that was a tough one for him.
Mr. Warwick: Well and for a couple of weeks he sang songs that, to be honest, are below him. He’s got a great voice, he knows how to sing, he’s got a great face, he does really communicate with that camera and all he’s got to do is find the right song and then I think he’s going to be a surprise. But he hasn’t done it yet for me.
Mr. Ross: Then came what the judges thought I think was one of the top songs of the night, was Chris Richardson, who just really blew it out.
Mr. Warwick: He did. “Get in the Pink.” Again, it wasn’t a song I knew very well, but he has got this Justin Timberlake look about him, you know? He can pull it out when he wants to. To be honest, I thought the judges, you know.very often I sit there and think, “Oh, they weren’t that bad. They were better than that, they were better than that.” Personally I thought they went a little bit over the top.
Mr. Ross: I agree. Maybe they were just abreast because he chose that song, I don’t know.
Mr. Warwick: But he was good. Don’t get me wrong. He was good; I liked him.
Mr. Ross: It seems Sundance has really struggled. We all loved him in his opening audition. I think he struggled through Hollywood; I think he struggled last week. But I think he finally found a song that fit him. Simon thought he still could do better, and that’s probably true, but I think it finally worked for him this week.
Mr. Warwick: And that was one of those songs that’s made for him and his kind of voice. It is a crowd pleaser, that song, which is great. That’s what he needs to do. He needs to find crowd pleasers right up to the end as much as he can, and he did that with that one. It was a good rendition of a song that was relatively easy for him to sing, I think. I’ll be interested to see how he gets on when we bring up the genres because I think that’s going to be trouble.
Mr. Ross: That’s right. That’s going to be real interesting. Next we’ll jump to the women, and Gina came up right away and you know I think she set the tone last night where I think she actually sounded like she really was singing from the heart. It was a good song.
Mr. Warwick: She’s a good kid. She’s very diverse; she can sing anything. I tended to agree with Simon: I wasn’t crazy on the dress; I thought it was a little lounge singery, but she’s very reliable and she’s a lovely girl. She’s a really lovely girl; I’m glad she’s there.
Mr. Ross: Next we have Alaina Alexander and that was a tough one. Simon might have nailed it when he said she ran out of steam three quarters of the way through the song.
Mr. Warwick: She did and I was really upset about that because she’s another lovely girl. She looked a million dollars, I thought. Time and time again you see kids come on the stage and you think, “Oh God, why did they wear that? That’s awful.” But she just looked like a blinking chocolate box; you could’ve eaten her. She was a lot better than she was last week, a lot better. But it did peeter out a little at the end. It’s a shame. The trouble is, you see, the girls competition, you’ve got a few of girls in there that are really, really strong. Some girls that might’ve gone on further in the competition are going to drop out earlier because they’re just not comparable. But I think she made a good job of it. I liked her a lot.
Mr. Ross: Ken you’ve been doing this from the beginning. Is this the best crop of women you guys have had? I think it might be.
Mr. Warwick: It might well be. Personally I loved Kat McPhee last year, and Paris, and Kellie Pickler. But there was more character in them at this point. I’m not saying these girls haven’t got character.
Mr. Ross: I know exactly what you’re saying. There was more personality and it came over on the screen.
Mr. Warwick: And the truth of the matter is I might have been unjust a little bit because it’s early in the process, and you’ve got to give two or three weeks for their nerves to settle before their character starts to come through. So I might be doing them down a little bit, but there were some girls last year that I just loved. I thought they were great, I thought they were great singers, I thought they were different; that was the good thing.
Mr. Ross: I think you’re right; I think they were different. I think what I’m referring to is just in their pure singing voice. You take out that personality and this crop of women are just unbelievable.
Mr. Warwick: They are something special.
Mr. Ross: Which leads us to Lakisha, and I have not been shy when I’m speaking both to you and Nigel, that she is one of my favorites. And again, despite the outfit maybe not being the best, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” what a great version she did.
Mr. Warwick: I mean she was Gladys, wasn’t she? If not a bit better? She’s got a great voice; she’s got a fabulous voice. It will be interesting again to see what happens when we get into the genres. She sings these big belty songs and these kind of show stopper songs, which is great, but she’s going to have to keep that going all the way through and I’ll be interested to see how that goes.
Mr. Ross: I thought it was a real challenge having Melinda Doolittle, our former back-up singer, follow Lakisha. She really held her own singing a retro song by Tony Valentine, I love that song, and what a great version.
Mr. Warwick: A fantastic version; she was fabulous.
Mr. Ross: As Paula said, it was the phrasing. I mean I don’t want to overdo it, but that’s what made Sinatra, Sinatra: his phrasing. And her phrasing was incredible.
Mr. Warwick: She is very, very impressive, that girl, and thing was, last week Lakisha blew everybody away. Melinda thought, “Right. Bugger this. I’m in a competition. I’m going to come back at her,” and she did, she really did. It means we’ve got a competition. I don’t like it when there’s someone who’s so much better than everybody else. But we’ve got a competition.
Mr. Ross: Next we have Antonella and actually I thought Simon was really off the mark when he said it was worse than last week. I think that was wrong.
Mr. Warwick: It was wrong.
Mr. Ross: And I did love her comeback about Jennifer Hudson. That really riled Simon.
Mr. Warwick: It did. In fairness, I mean Simon has done a lot of dumb things sometimes, but in fairness to him, it was the public that voted off Jennifer, not Simon. You know he calls it the way he sees it, and he really does. And in many respects, back then, Jennifer Hudson did abuse her vibrato too much and it did sometimes used to make what she was singing sound sharp. She’s come leaps and bounds in the last 18 months, Jennifer Hudson, so it wasn’t as if the Jennifer Hudson we see now was the same Jennifer Hudson we saw then, you know?
Mr. Ross: The other things that’s obvious, I’m sure most of us have seen “Dreamgirls,” the part itself, and who knew she was going to be such a great actress as well, she just did that incredibly. I do want to bring up one thing, and I don’t want to dwell on it. But it’s been all over the Internet.that there have been some pictures floating around about Antonella. How do you decide about extraneous circumstances and how that might affect the contestants and when to ignore that and when no to?
Mr. Warwick: Well I think that this is terribly unfortunate because there are some of those pictures that she is very adamant are not her, and it’s quite possible she right. There are people that will do anything.
Mr. Ross: What a mean-spirited thing to do anyway, you know?
Mr. Warwick: It’s out there Chuck, you know? A friend of mine, he works for the IRS, and I said, “How do you pick on people to go and do tests to go through their accounts with?” and he said more often than not, their best friend gets on the phone and says, “This guy’s got far too much money. You ought to check into it.” I think that jealousy is a horrible thing, and I think that’s a little bit of what we’re seeing here and poor Antonella; I do feel for her. She’s a kid. She goes on summer breaks like everybody else and I’m sure she’s not really done anything that any other woman who’s ever been on a summer break has done.
Mr. Ross: Thank you, Ken. Next we have Jordin, who’s only 17 years old, and everybody thinks that she hasn’t even hit here potential yet. What do you think?
Mr. Warwick: I think they’re right. There’s a lot more in Jordin to come out. She’s incredibly mature for her age. She’s got a really nice personality; she’s a lovely girl. She’s quite emotional and I think, again, give it a couple weeks for her to find her feet, and I think we’re going to see some big things.
Mr. Ross: She was followed by another relatively young woman, Stephanie, who’s only 19 years old, and boy, she hit it out of the ballpark.
Mr. Warwick: She can sing too. She’s another one in there that at any given moment you’re going to go, “Wow! That was fabulous!” Her and Sabrina, at the end, is another one that’s really got the pipes, that can let loose and let rip. So it’s going to be a really interesting girl’s competition this year.
Mr. Ross: I thought the way the show ended last night; she really belted it out there. Simon wasn’t as impressed as the other two, but I thought it was good.
Mr. Warwick: It was good. She’s a dark horse. She’s one of those that, again, give her a couple of weeks and wait and see what she can come up with.
Mr. Ross: Let’s talk about Leslie. I think Leslie, as you mentioned a little earlier, that sometimes when you get out of their comfort zones, it’s difficult. She was back in her comfort zone again last night. I think her range might work against her in the long term on this show.
Mr. Warwick: That’s what it’s about. It’s about the voice, really, and there are girls that have got an advantage because of their range. You never know. But she was a lot better than she was last week. Who’s to say next week it won’t be twice as good again?
Mr. Ross: Another person who I think was much better was Haley, who came out rocking.
Mr. Warwick: I think that was unfair, what they said to Haley. I thought Haley was good. She took onboard absolutely what they said about being cabaret, she picked the right song, she changed her look, she came out looking young, sexy, hip, and she gave it everything, and I thought they were cruel to her.
Mr. Ross: I agree a hundred percent. If you listen to what they told her last week, she listened to them, and then they criticized her for doing what they told her to do.
Mr. Warwick: It’s nuts. I didn’t think it wasn’t very fair. I thought she was good, bless her. She can sing actually, that girl; she’s a good entertainer, she’s got a natural talent and I hope she’s around for a few more week yet, I really do.
Mr. Ross: Well, so do we. Anything you can tell us about tonight’s show? Obviously we don’t want any spoilers. Are we going to be very surprised?
Mr. Warwick: The outcome is probably not going to be the way you or the judges thought it was going to be.
Mr. Ross: Really? Well, a fun tease, my friend. Anything about the song-writing contest?
Mr. Warwick: We’re still working on it Chuck. I’m being absolutely honest. We’ve had kind of a busy week. You know that Nigel and I are doing the Emmys as well? We’re going to produce the Emmys.
Mr. Ross: I spent a good portion of the beginning of last week congratulating both you and Nigel for doing that. I think that’s going to be an incredible boom for the Emmys, so congratulations.
Mr. Warwick: I sincerely hope so Chuck. It’s one of those things that could turn out to be your best friend or your worst enemy. But as you can imagine, the phone’s been red-hot all week not with just congratulations but “What are you going to do to change it?” The truth is we’ve only known about a week.
Mr. Ross: You’re both incredibly creative and smart, so enough said there. Again, thank you so much Ken. We’ll do it again next week.

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