Music manager Johnny Wright starts his new on-line talent search for the next “SuperGroup” today (Feb. 4, 2011).
Following is the transcript of a conference call with Wright on Feb. 2, 2011, in which he answers questions regarding the new show and its concept…
MODERATOR: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for calling in today to speak with Johnny Wright about his new show, On the Spot, his quest for the next superstar. This show premiers this Friday, Feb. 4th at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific at onthespot.cambio.com.
Q: You’ve managed not only some of the biggest pop stars in music but through the years, they’ve become legends. You’ve worked with New Kids, NSYNC, Britney- Were all these ‘happy accidents’ or did you know at the time they were exactly what the industry was looking for?
J. WRIGHT: Of course, I knew everything. I’m just joking. One of the things that I think has always happened for me is that I have been in the right spot at the right time. To find people who are very passionate and talented and were willing to take whatever shots that they needed to take to become successful. It was never a situation for me where I felt like this was our time to move. When the talent was right, when the … were there, and when I felt that it was time to present them to the world we just went.
There were a lot of times that there were barricades put up against us and people don’t realize that. For the Backstreet Boys, we had to go and spend eight months in Germany before we could come back to the United States and become actually successful even though I felt the group was always that talented. The market here wasn’t ready for that. So when we put the first single out, it kind of stalled at 66 and didn’t seemed like it was going to be a hit, but I did know that there was a bigger market for what we were doing outside of the U.S. So we went over there to Germany and eight months later we came back to the U.S. and finally the market was ready the rest was history.
Q:With On the Spot, you’re looking for another super group. Backstreet, ‘NSync, New Kids-those are the definition of super group. Do you already have an idea of what you’re looking for or is it like a formula to it that you’re trying to capture again?
JW: No, but I will say this straight up. I’m not looking to put a boy band together. I actually already have a new one that we signed back to Jive Records, which I’ve had lots of success with Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync there and they’re called One Call. I’m not looking to duplicate that.
What the exciting thing about it is I really don’t know what I’m going to find. I think that talent will actually dictate what it becomes. I do know I want to put together a mixed group of guys and girls and musicians. If you play the piano, you play guitar, that’s an added plus. So, as far as having an idea or formula or a set group that I’m just trying to fill the pieces in, no, and I don’t even know how many it’s going to be.
In the back of my mind, I say things all of the time like I’d like to find the next Hall & Oats. I’d like to put together this version of what Earth, Wind and Fire would be. If I find that, then that’s what it’s going to be. If not, something else might come to me. I just have to really pay attention to the character, the contestants that are uploading to me and it will dictate to what it actually becomes.
Q: Based on your experience and your history in the career, how impressed have you been by the talent you’ve seen so far in the auditions?
JW: The interesting thing is that everyone’s uploading from their house. Usually, when we do these kind of talent shows, it’s an open audition so the talent is actually in front of you so you really see it face front. You can … different thing that you ask the talent to do that makes certain things connect you. For here, it’s really about how you take that situation and what captures you from someone’s home computer. I have to say, I was thinking that I was going to see a lot of raw stuff that eventually myself and my team would have to really mold and bring out, but I’ve been really surprised at the level of talent that’s been uploading.
The interesting thing is that they’ve chosen places that they feel comfortable to upload these videos. If you watch, you’ll see a whole lot of contestants going into their bathrooms because they know that the acoustics are better there, so they’re going to give a better performance with ambiance by sitting in the bathrooms. You watch those things or there’s a couple of them who have a special room in their house and they have their cats sitting up on the piano. These are their comfort zones and you really see that they’re comfortable in those situations so the quality of talent that they’re just putting into the audition is there.
When you do these things face-to-face, they’re on unknown territory. They’re coming into a place that we’ve created for them to have to sing. The stage is unfamiliar, the surroundings are unfamiliar, so a lot of times, you don’t get the best out of these contestants because everything else is causing them to have nerves. But, in the upload, they upload when they feel they’re ready in the most comfortable position. So we’re actually getting great talent from this process.
Q: I’m a little ignorant on the format of the show. Can you explain to me how it’s going to work and is it strictly on the Internet? How are you going to promote it? All that sort of stuff.
JW:It’s an online search on Cambio.com and our partner’s AOL, AT&T. It’s a global search. I have listed ten songs that have been preapproved. You pick one of those songs and you take your time, like I said before, wherever you feel comfortable from your computer or if you want to use your video phone, you could do that. You upload a minute, a minute and a half of video to me.
I will then review every video and I say this with all my heart, I review every video. From there, I’ll pick my top 20 out of all the submissions that I get. I will whittle those top 20 down to a top 10. The top ten will then physically come and I will meet you in L.A. where I have some industry pros-choreographers, vocal coaches and our people and musicians that are part of my team-and we’re going to put those ten people through a boot camp. I will then give them all kinds of challenges and things that I want to do to really feel who is the best talent of the bunch. Then, I kind of make my decision of what kind of group I’m going to put together and from there, I’ll put that group together. The process of me picking the top 20 all the way up to the band is created in a Web series. So, you will see an eight to ten minute Web series, like a TV show, of the process of how we go through it.
The one thing I love about it is because it’s the Internet, it’s interactive. The decision process is just not about me and my team. If I get an e-mail from someone in the country that has in interesting question or thing that they want to say to the contestant, I can bring them up on video chat and actually bring them into my process and get their feedback. So, it’s ultimately, as the fans follow this Web series, I have to have feedback from them to know if I’m making the right band that’s going to appeal to them. Everything that I do obviously is to have the world embrace this band. As much as I can bring the world into this process, is what I want to do. That’s what the luxury of being on the Internet and the Web does to me for doing it. Then, ultimately, we’ll do the traditional things. We’ll make a record. We’ll promote it on radio. We’ll premier the video, and hopefully go on tour and the world will love this group.
Q: Approximately, how many groups have you seen online since you started this?
JW: A couple of thousand. The cutoff date to upload was two days ago, but there’s such a backlog of uploads that I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. So, ultimately, I don’t know what the final number’s going to be, but I’ve looked at over 2,000 already.
Q: Will this be publicized strictly online or will they try to publicize this somewhat on TV or radio stations?
JW: Yeah, there’s an advertising and marketing campaigns drawing people to the Web series as it would be any other TV show, so it’s not strictly advertised online. It’s advertised everywhere, but the show is strictly online.
Q: We’ve got American Idol, we’ve got America’s Got Talent, we’ve got Making the Band, and it seems that more and more that this type of process has reached a burnout stage. That’s sort of played out by the fact that American Idol winners aren’t becoming … stars anymore. What are you going to be able to do different than the others haven’t done?
JW: Well, like I said before, one of the things that what I’m doing is the process has an involvement from the world fan that’s watching the episodes and watching it go forward. The thing with American Idol and some of these other shows is that you have a certain time window. It goes 10 or 11 weeks, then there’s a winner and … not connected to the artist after that point and so those that actually were involved in helping to find that winner … continue with the process. I’m a part of this process from the beginning to the end, whenever the band decides that they want to call it quits.
The other thing is that in the mindset is that once these artists are chosen, there’s such a lag time between the show and when the first product comes out and there’s nothing going on to continue to reinforce the fan that had watched the show about this. So, it’s kind of like the “out of sight, out of mind” thing. With this, you not only see the process of me picking a band, you’ll see me going through the process of making the records and the producers and songs and you will have say so. So, if you engage in the process from the beginning, you can be a part of it all the way up through the launch of the record.
I think that once fans are engaged-and that’s where I go back to Danity Kane on Making the Band. That particular group, I can’t speak for every one of them, but people engaged in the process of Danity Kane from the beginning to the end and followed them all of the way because the album came out two weeks after the show-we picked the band. So, a million people bought that album in the first six months. To me, that was as success.
Again, there’s a lack of connection to some of the winners of Idol because there’s just a big down time … going to the studio to make the record. When you have 30 million people watching the show and you’re not continually feeding them after the show ends, they go elsewhere.
Like I said, the other thing is that the judges that are a part of that show are not connected to the artist after the fact either so there’s no continuating factor between that show and the fan before the album comes on. There always seems to be this huge lag time that happens. I understand that Idol is going to change that gap, so it will be interesting to see what happens now.
Q: How did you choose Joe Jonas to work with you and what has he brought to the process or will he bring to the process?
JW: Well, I’ve been a part of the Jonas Brothers since they put out their first record, so I’ve always been a part of the Jonas Brothers. Nick decided to do his side project last year. So now, they’re taking a break from each other as a band to pursue solo situations or other situations. This is the process that I find myself doing with Joe as a natural progression as being the manager of a band. The type of music that he wants to do and the people that he wants to work with are all familiar people we’ve seen from … to Rob … and those guys who have worked with other artists that I have had. It’s just a transition period of him going from a group to a solo thing. It’s not the end of the group, but it’s something that he’s got in his soul. He wants to try and for me, that’s exciting to me to help him make that transition.
Q: It seems as though you’ve had a really big hand in changing the market and the face of music in the last decade and a half or so. As you were saying before, the Backstreet Boys in Germany, first and when they first came to the U.S., it was kind of a big switch in what America was used to seeing. Then even with Making the Band, it was pretty revolutionary. That was one of the first talent search shows that we saw. Now, with this Web series and the idea of having the talent search and the show begin solely on the Web, it seems completely revolutionary. It seems like a totally new idea. It really would seem as though you’re really widening the audience and having a global reach in the talent pool. Do you think that this endeavor is going to change the market again? If so, how do you believe it that it will?
JW: Well, I appreciate all of that. When I go into it, that’s not my thought pattern to change how people do things. It’s just changing how I do things. The Web is available to us. People connect to it all over the world. A lot of people cannot get to these physical auditions, but might be the most talented people in the world. For whatever reasons, their family can’t afford it, they can’t drive, they can’t take off of work. So there was an opportunity now for me to connect to them directly to their homes and they don’t have to go anywhere. So, why wouldn’t I? Why hasn’t this been done before?
So, it was just a natural progression to the technology that we have for me to go out and find talent this way. If it ends up becoming the trend, so be it. I’m just so happy that I can be a kind of a pioneer if it works. For me, it works anyways because of the level of talent that I find, I’m assured right now, I’m going to put together something very special.
On top of that, the fan at home gets to follow the process anytime they want to online. They’re not subject to have to go to some place Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. and if you miss it, you miss it. It’s always there, and it’s a new thing. I’m learning as I go through the process myself so I don’t have it completely from A to Z. Every time a new adventure opens up, it is exciting for me.
Q: Do you see this becoming something like American Idol or even Making the Band, where it’s kind of repeated, if not annually then more than once?
JW: Yes, for sure. Like I said, I’m looking for a group this time, but I might utilize the same situation for a solo artist. Again, it’s a place for now-if I do have a certain concept of an artist that I’m looking for, I know that the process can work and know that I can get to the people and they will upload their videos. For me, I don’t know if I’m ever going to get in a car or a plane and fly around the country again, because I can access them from my home office.
Q: wanted to know what sticks out to you the most in an artist, where you could just say, “Okay, this person is a star,” where you just know?
JW: Well, obviously, it all starts with their vocal talent but there’s also a confidence that they have when they sing. There’s something about their personality, a quirk, or something like that. It’s just a “it” factor thing and I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something that I have been blessed to be able to see in the first 30 seconds of having somebody perform in front of me. It’s just an intuition that I have.
For instance, there’s a girl named Jaz who uploaded on line. I didn’t even care to see her sing, but when her face in her video came up the first time, it was like, “Wow, there’s just something about this girl,” and then as she started to go into performance, her vocal was there. The way she sang the song, with the personality that she had in this character, I was like, “This girl is a star.” I haven’t physically seen her but if everything goes with my first intuition, that I saw from the upload, is true when I get to stand in front of her face-to-face, then I know that this is definitely going to be one of my finalists.
Q: How did On the Spot come about? Was it kind of like an idea that you’d always had and it just was the right time to do it or did someone come up to with the-?
JW: It was interesting, because the partners of cambio.com are all part of my Jonas group family and people had recognized me from other things that I have done or knew that I was someone in the business. So, I would be at restaurants or at Foot Locker and people would come up to me and say, “Can I sing for you?” I always felt uncomfortable about it because then I would have to give them an instant reaction and that’s not usually how my process was. So, I stared bringing up a flip cam with me so when it happened, I would just film people and say, “Okay, let me go back home and check this out.”
So a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you put some of those up on your own Web site and see if people comment on them?” So that’s what we did. My friends from Cambio came to me and said, “Johnny, we need to do some kind of show with you.” I said, “Well, I’ve been doing this thing,” which at the time was called, Johnny on the Spot, “and this might be cool and something that we could actually do.” So, all the brains got together and we figured out, “Hey, this is a great new way to really find talent.” We put the time and the resources into it and that’s how the whole thing came together.
Q: Along with On the Spot, I don’t know how you manage at all, but you also have made an incredibly impressive … of artists under Wright Entertainment Group. I already have my Janet Jackson tickets for her upcoming tour. I can’t wait for that. I love Danity Kane, so I’m excited for Aubrey’s solo stuff, which I think is coming out this year. What can you tell us about the projects and the artists that you’re currently working with?
JW: As you know Aubrey has a solo project coming out, she has a TV show that starts March 14th on the Oxygen channel and it will go through the process of that. Justin’s making movies right now but I’m sure he will be in the studio in the not too distant future. Janet is going out on tour. The Jonas Brother, like I say, they are all doing individual projects right now with Joe in the studio right now working on his individual music. David Archuleta is also somebody that I have that we’re going back into the studio to make a record.
I’m blessed to be able to have all of these talented people but I also have a talented team that know what they’re doing, have great relationships with my artists and have been able to give me the time to float through different things and do different things. It just somehow all works and I’m just very happy and blessed for the team that I have and artists that I have.
Q: I was actually at the first date of Britney’s Baby One More Time tour back in 1999 and you were right there off the stage with Larry Rudolph. That was the very beginning of her career, cut to now, which is like 12 years later, she’s about to make her comeback yet again. What do you think of her career now and how it’s been over the years?
JQ: I think that the one thing that has always been good is that Britney’s constantly given people quality in what they want and she’s never disappointed her fans. Whatever has happened in her life, good or bad, she’s always maintained quality records and hits. She’s always entertained us in videos. If you go see her shows, she’s always given 110% to everything she does on that stage. Her fans are like, I call them, family. They will do and be there for her every step of the way and she gives that back to them. So when you have an artist-fan relationship like that and you just keep giving everybody what they want, it can go on forever.
Q: I saw One Call open up for her, too. They were great. So, I’m looking forward to seeing more of them as well.
JW: Yes, we just shot the video that’s coming out now and I’m looking forward towards the third quarter of this year really making a big splash with them. So I’m glad you like them and thank you for supporting all of my bands. I appreciate that.
Q: No problem. I’m a fan of all of them. I trust you Johnny. That’s a good thing. I’m looking forward for On the Spot; I’ll help you out too. I’ll let you know who I’m feeling too.
JW: Please do and I promise you that I’ll listen to you and I’ll try to keep you on what I can to entertain people. Like I said, it’s fun. I never get tired of it. I love it. I love no matter how many times you start this process, seeing or being around your artist when they hear the record on the radio the first time, being around them when they see their video the first time, when they get their first award, it never gets tiring. It’s what you live for and I love that. It brings me a really big high and I just want to keep doing it and doing it and watching people’s dreams come true. Again, this is another process for On the Spot and I just hope that we continue with the band that I’m about to put together.
Q: I was just thinking with the reunion of Backstreet Boys and New Kids doing so fabulously well, do you ever see a reunion of ‘NSync?
JW: Of course, there’s a lot of people that are talking about that. I’ll never say never. It’s just one thing that’s good about that band is they’ll do it when they feel the time is right. One thing about them, they’re brothers, so they’re family. It’s not just a business thing. It’s not just a money thing. So when they all have time from the things that they are doing to regroup together as brothers and spend some time together, I think that will come out of it, but the timing has to be right. They have to feel there’s a reason to want to do it. I will never say, “Never,” but who knows.
I will give you this, that I just recently put back together Color Me Badd, so that’s exciting because that was a group … too that was really successful. There were a lot of talented guys in that group. The fact they found the need to want to come back to and work with each other is exciting and I’m glad to be a part of that.
Q: I’ll look forward to it and I’ll echo the fellow that just asked the questions saying thank you for all of the good music that you’ve brought to us over the years.
JW: I appreciate that. I’m going to keep trying to do it. Again, like I say, it’s just having a great team of people who believe in the artists that I have and the artists that believe in themselves. So, as long as I keep getting that, we’ll keep doing it.
Q: I have a question about the success of the show. Obviously, Idol is gauged on advertising dollars and viewers. How are you going to gauge the success of the show? Is it going to be on … or what?
JW: My role in this situation, is to find a band and to try to make the band successful. If the band is successful, the show works. …, viewers, whatever that is, that’s not what my real concern is. My concern is delivering a great band at the end of the day and finding some of the greatest talent and this was an opportunity for me to do that. Again, it’s also a new frontier, so you really can’t compare it against anything so I can’t be distracted by those kinds of things. I’m really focused on the talent and making a great band and if this band goes on and the world embraces it and they become successful, then the show is successful regardless of what the numbers might say.
Q: Maybe this is something you have not thought about either, but like on Idol the availability of the contestants to the media doesn’t even come until after they’re in the top ten and they’re eliminated. Will there be any different formula that you have, that maybe the fans will be available to us even before they come?
JW: The beauty of this thing is that again, you can send me an e-mail while you are watching the process and say, “Look, I have a question that I want to ask one of your contestants.” We have a thing called a media room, which is where I go in with all my talent, the people that my team put together. We pull different people up from around the world … contestants to talk to them. So you can say, “I watched this on one of the episodes and I have something to say to a particular artist.” I’ll bring that person into the media room and pull you up on the screen and make you actively involved in the process where you can talk face-to-face with them and ask them a question or whatever you want to do.
Like I said, that’s the beauty of the Internet. There’s such an interaction that happens in the process and I need that kind of feedback to know that I’m on the right track to what people are looking to have this band be. Ultimately, you have to be the one that I rely on to promote them with me and the fan has to be the one that I have to rely on to embrace them. So, it just can’t be like, “This is what Johnny thinks you’re going to like,” and shove it down your throat. I need you as a part of the process to know that I’m doing the right thing.
Q: Is Archuleta involved in On the Spot at all?
JW: No, none of my acts are really involved in it because the focus on this is finding new talent. However, because of the fact that I could be around and Archuleta or another artist when a video pops up that I’m looking at to try to see if this is somebody that I want to put into my top 20, top 10, I might ask them, ” What do you think about this?” They’ll give me their opinion, but it is not something where they become a cast member of the Web series.
Q: I just wanted to ask you quickly about your team that you just announced, John Taylor and Candice … and Doc Holiday kind of joining your team of panelists here. For shows like American Idol and … Dancing with the Stars, it seems as though … majority like two-thirds of the judging panel, they’re artists or they’re dancers or they’re people who-they’re not necessarily always made up of industry people. It seems like the team that you’ve put together here, the majority of them are industry people. Even John Taylor, as a musical director, he’s definitely got a lot of the industry side and not just the view of an artist. How do you think that’s going to affect this and how do you think it’s going to give On the Spot a different dynamic than those shows?
JW: The team consists of people that I would have to deal with in some way, shape or form with the process of my artists. So, the fact that we both end up with talent competition to musician and players that play keyboard and guitars, I need someone that’s a musician, who’s been on the road, who understands that. To be able to be my voice on whether or not that person’s a real player or not, or whether they could cut it. Doc Holiday is a vocal coach so I might hear something that he hears differently and to know whether or not there’s a limitation to vocally of what an artist can do. So, that’s important. Candice …, she’s an A&R person from a record label. Ultimately, what needs to happen is that whatever I put together has to entice an A&R person to want to sign him from the songs and quality of the voice to the imaging. So, again, trying to cut down my chances of failure, it was important for me to have an A&R person involved, to know what it is that a record label would be looking for.
These people have a specific purpose to the process of me finding the best of the best that I can do and that’s why they’re my team. For me to have a celebrity or somebody like that wasn’t as important as to really have the team to help me find the greatest band that I can find. That’s ultimately, what this is about. It’s really about-not a game show. It’s my new process of finding talent.
MODERATOR: Johnny, do you have any closing remarks?
JW: No, I just want to thank everybody for your questions and even more so your enthusiasm that you followed me because that’s a wow factor to me. I’m excited about this process and so far, I know for a fact that I’ve got enough great talent to put a great group together. Now the next step is just for me to do it and I would encourage you guys to follow the process. If you want to become a part of it, please let us know, because I definitely need your feedback as we move forward.