Here is the final transcript of Thursday’s conference call with American Idol executive producer Nigal Lythgoe:
Q: Can you tell us in terms of the shows future success how important is it to you that you find a singer that can sell a lot of records, and is it more important than readings or the judges?
NL: t depends, I think, on who you are. If you’re the record company, you want the singer to do well. If you’re the broadcaster, you want the show to do well. If you’re me, the executive producer, you want every single part of it to do terrific. So it’s a really difficult question. I do think that each and every part of it is the jigsaw puzzle, part of the jigsaw puzzle that has got to come together for the success of the program.
Obviously, the judges needed to be really good this year especially with the loss of Simon who is irreplaceable. We decided we wouldn’t … same route but we were going to go in an entirely different direction so there couldn’t be a comparison. I think that the talent that we found this year is probably-and I’ll be totally honest about this and not just because it’s this year-is probably the best talent I’ve seen as a group on American Idol ever. I think, tonight if you watch the show you will agree with me. I think that the viewing figures have held up brilliantly considering we’re in our 10th season, we have lost our two main stars, that’s Paula and Simon. We’re in a very, very good place that I like to be in.
Is the person going to be successful that we get at the end of the day? Actually is not in our hands, and it’s not even in the public’s hands that voted for them. It’s going to be in the record … hands. It’s going to be in the hands of the recording company because it’s about whatever the music you turn out at the end of the day. So in that way I’ve got to hold production’s hands up and say we have no control on assisting that apart from bringing them back obviously and putting them on future shows in order to sort of expose them to the public.
Q: Kind of a numbers question. The first part of it is you’d originally talked about being down to 40 by the time you got to Las Vegas next week. The show last night kind of implied that you’d be about 50. Is that right or-?
NL: It got worse than that, Mike. We got down to 60.
Q: So you’re talking 60 people to Las Vegas and you kind of hoped you would take 40 to Las Vegas. Is that right?
NL: No. We were always talking about- because this was the most amount we’ve ever taken to Hollywood-it was something like 327, something in that area-that we knew it was going to be really tough. It’s just going to be a blood bath and we didn’t want to lose anybody. The judges this year have been particularly pernickety and careful in giving people a second opportunity because everybody-and they know because they’ve done it themselves-everybody screws up with nerves. Let’s give them a second opportunity. Let’s try and hear it again, and the fact is that some kids that even got through down to the 40 and down to the final group were given second and third chances to do so and actually came through and shone.
So we were always in the area of about 50, 60. We didn’t know and then at the end of the day we put a final sort of sealing, said okay well if we do 60 … 40 people for the final sing off and then 20 to final. It was that sort of concept. All the time we’ve been extremely flexible this year. It’s very hard to put finites down when you’re dealing with talent and breakthrough talent.
Q: Do you have to be down to 20 by the end of next week then or-?
NL: Well last night we actually did our final group and you’ll have to wait to see what happens there.
Q: I love Jennifer and Steven being the new judges and the whole vibe of the show has changed. It seems more positive, more supportive. Is that something that you were going for or is that something that unfolded organically from bringing them on?
NL: Oh, no it was absolutely going for it. This is what we wanted. We never wanted anybody to be held up against Simon. Simon is his own man and brilliant at what he does and you cannot then replace somebody like that. They’re always going to be less than to be frank, and so if you do somebody that is their own person and no one- even Tyler is never going to be like Simon Cowell, and as I’ve said before Simon Cowell is never going to be like Steven Tyler. They are their own separate entities.
Jennifer, of course, is-these are stars in their own right that are putting themselves in this position. Something happened last night with Jennifer that just touched us all and that would have never really happened ever before on this show, and you suddenly go wow we really are dealing here with real people. They might be stars but they are real people.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgot because everyone really is focusing on Jennifer and Steven and rightly so because they’re brilliant. But the role Randy is now playing is somewhat being overlooked because he is now the anchor of this program. I always know that whatever happens, Randy is there and will move the process on for me. Randy’s role now should not be dismissed because he really is using more words than dog.
Q: Tell me what percentage-this …-what percentage of those from texting versus voice calls and how has that changed over time?
NL: Well, I can’t answer that question for you. I haven’t done the last two years so I’ve not been involved with the process, Rodney. Certainly, you have to know that when we first came to this country Europe of course has been texting for many years. Our biggest telephone companies where out of Sweden and Norway and Scandinavia, and so Europe had been using texting a great deal. America when we first came here they were talking about us not even texting because no one was texting. So the growth of texting in this country has been seen now. It’s palpable. It’s huge in the same way as using … if you like. It’s just grown beyond belief, but as percentage to actual telephone calls I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.
Q: I think there’s some confusion about what exactly Steven Tyler did to warrant the apology. Can you clear that up please?
NL: What Steven Tyler did to do what?
Q: What he did to warrant the apology from Fox?
NL: Oh, well this is what amazes me. There was no apology. It’s obvious to me it’s pretty difficult sometimes to get British humor, and for us to-it was the producers, not Fox, that apologized. The producers wish to apologize for Steven using language that he shouldn’t be using, and then of course he went on to say, “You know what gluck rhymes with. It rhymes with dah, dah, dah,” and we ….
Q: So it was a joke?
NL: Yes. I’m quite surprised that the people that watched that didn’t get that. So it was just, if you’d like, poor humor on us Brits … or lack of sense of humor and sarcasm on Americas part.
Q: How do you respond to the criticism that this year’s judges might be too soft and that that’s why the number of contestants is up?
NL: At the end of the day you have to say, “Does it help the program that more people are given the opportunity or does it not help the program?” I truly believe hand on my heart as I said earlier we have the best talent we’ve ever had-ever. So therefore whether their soft or their not soft at the end of the day they still have to bring it down to present America with the final bunch of people. If it’s giving more people the opportunity to get it right along the road then I’m all for that from the results that I’ve seen this year.
Q: Early on there was some word that there might be an element to the show where the contestants were living together in a house. Can you say anything about that?
NL: Well, that’s exactly what we did in the first couple of years if you might remember. Yes it’s not in any way shape or form- and I also read that I was really looking forward to it, which I’ve never ever said. I think it’s just a question of keeping them together. It might, it might-I repeat the word might-give us the opportunity of seeing them in natural surroundings-in the kitchen and having breakfast, God knows.
It isn’t a big brother in any way shape or form. We are not doing 24/7 surveillance. There are not cameras in bathrooms or anywhere else. The cameras will be in full view of the kids, so it isn’t-I repeat-isn’t Big Brother. It might give us the opportunity because I believe the best thing about watching this show is knowing who you support and why you support them. It’s not just about talent. It’s about their personality as well, and any way that we can find an area to get across the personality and humor of the kids I would love to do that. But this is only parts in part so it’s keeping them together and not some big element to the program. Remembering that we’ve got 15-year-olds possibly in the finale and their parents will be there as well.
Q: How will your new judges do in a live show? Do you have any concerns about that?
NL: Of course. Yes I do. It isn’t so much concerns about what they might say because we’ve always got a seven second delay I believe. It’s more the fact of pinning things down and saying them articulately in a short period of time, which has gone wrong in the past and you start running out of time. People who DVR the show get really annoyed. Fox, the broadcaster, will get annoyed because of the certain time they go off to their affiliates.
So we need to be on time. I’m a stickler for that. Every break I sit near the judges. I’ll put my fingers across my throat and wind them up. I’ll point to my watch, but they need to have something to say in a finite period of time and say it articulately. Yes we haven’t done that yet. We’ve been in the edit process and they haven’t done it yet. So, yes I … dealing with sensible people.
Q: Have they been practicing?
NL: With what? I’m sure we’re going to get together and I’ll sit and talk with them and we’ll talk but you can’t really practice that because you never know what the kid’s going to do on the night. You have to assess what you’ve seen. You’ve got to critique what you’ve seen and you’ve got to get … across to the public. Especially with these judges, they get proper critiques across to the contestants because they truly want them to improve the next week. So it isn’t just a question of dropping their legs from underneath them it’s saying to them what you need to do is this. So they’re going to take some time to do it.
Q: Once you added Steven to the mix, everybody began wondering would Aerosmith play some part in the show obviously by performing. It seems like it’s inevitable so is it inevitable? If so what can you say about it?
NL: I can say nothing about it. I’m terribly sorry.
Q: Has it even been discussed?
NL: I can say nothing about it. I think you’ve answered your own question in your statement to be frank with you without giving too much away.
Q: Do you feel like the pull of the band at all distracts or detracts from Steven?
NL: Steven’s his own man, end of story. I’m not doing the show with Aerosmith. I’m doing the show with Steven Tyler. So to be frank with you I don’t really think about Aerosmith. I’m British and they were huge over here. They were reasonably successful in the U.K. but not to the degree they were here. So forgive me, and I’m being rude by saying that Aerosmith just aren’t in my thoughts when I’m dealing with Steven Tyler. I’m dealing with American Idol and a judge on American Idol.
Q: As we’ve seen the last couple weeks, I think you guys have really highlighted the kid’s talent, like it’s just been incredible. Will we continue to see this level of talent from the young kids or does it kind of even out?
NL: Let me say that on tonight’s show you will see even more talent than you’ve seen before. Then on the Vegas show, you will see production that you haven’t previously seen before and-
Q: What do you mean by production?
NL: It just builds with other people as well, and people that you think you like at the moment in time may lose it a little bit. So this is the whole process of a journey isn’t it? Some people just break through. You never know what’s going to be happening.
As I was asked before, did I think the judges were being softer? Yes they may have been but because they believe the talent might break through and then it does. Then you can’t say anything because the judges were right. So it’s that and that will happen before your eyes, I hope, you’ll see that on the program.
Q: I have sort of a two prong question. I was really impressed with the get ready performances and what everybody brought to that song. Because of that I was hoping you could comment about sort of the song choices that these contestants are being given and also the fact that you had that collection of 15 year olds and 16 year olds who were working with their mothers. If you bring a parent in there who perhaps knows some of these songs that kids don’t know, might you eventually have to alter the rules about-because if one of those kids is the child of a choreographer or a professional backup singer.
NL: Well, I think what we’ll probably do is hire the moms … everybody is one aspect to it. Yes this has always been available. Anyone whose mom wants to come down, we’re very happy … they want to be taken away by their mom and taught, fine. Don’t forget, we’ve got a lot of professionals in there helping them too. … mom was the story that we focused on but there were a lot of professional giving help. Don’t forget … is still there with Katharine McPhee’s mom is also a vocal coach who’s there helping out. We’ve got Michael Orland. We still have a team of people there.
There’s … individuals at the end of the day. Certainly that 15 year old really shone I thought and sort of-but tonight you’ll see them broken down again into individuals and see how they get on as an individual. There’s a lot of strengthening being in a group and that’s why people join groups because they’re not really solo artists. Tonight you’ll see them as solo artists and you will probably re-judge … this evening-
Q: How are you?
NL:’m good. I’m a little tired. I’m flying back and forth to London. We did our final green mile show last night. Editing like crazy to get things ready for next week and looking forward to us going live. So it’s very exciting times.
Q: You’re always doing so many different things, but the show turned out really great this year. Everybody seems to have such a positive reaction. I talked to Simon Cowell a week or two ago and he gives a thumbs up to the show saying he loves what you guys have done. Do you think that’s nice to have validation from Simon or do you not care?
NL: Simon is very gracious, very gracious indeed, and the same way as we’ll say his X Factor show in the U.K. is absolutely fantastic. We complement each other. Sometimes it’s not always reported like that but I was asked once, “Are you frightened about X Factor coming to America?” I said, “No, it’s complementary. It’s just a show. I’m not frightened,” and it was reported as Nigel Lythgoe is not frightened of Simon Cowell. … the wrong way but everyone has a job to do.
Q: You say Katharine McPhee’s mom’s working on the show now. How did that come about?
NL: She’s a vocal coach and we brought vocal coaches in so she’s on the show, and is very, very talented I have to say.
Q: The other thing I was just wondering the level of, I’ll use the word “bad talent” or should I say least talented people was a lot less through the audition process that we saw. So could you tell me a little bit about why you chose-?
NL: You didn’t watch the Los Angeles show?
Q: No I did but you use to highlight a lot more of the bad people than you did this year. What was the reason behind changing that?
NL: There wasn’t really. It’s just that we had such good talent and there are lots of times when we hit our top 20 where you don’t know who the … 50% of them are because we’ve never shown them. So it was really-I would prefer to follow up on the journey of people that we might be seeing later on than concentrating on a bunch of people that get kicked off the show that day.
At the same time, American Idol will and always does show the very best and the very worst, and I think, again, it’s I guess British humor, but I like smiling at the delusional especially when they’re arrogant about it and have got something to say if they’re told you can’t sing and they go mad. I just love that. Stick up for yourself. It doesn’t … too. It doesn’t matter if your told you can’t sing and you can’t dance you carry on doing it. No one’s going to chop your legs off.
Q: I love the new direction. I thought it went brilliantly. So thank you.
NL: Really thanks to the judges and thanks to the talent that came along this year. It made it easy for us. All we do is put together a show and in edits we have to have the material to put together and the talent to be able to do it.
Q: I wanted to ask you about something you had mentioned earlier about how when Simon Cowell was involved with the show there was a lot of negativity. There was a lot of broken hearts. Do you feel like the mood has lifted this year because he’s not around? Have you noticed a difference in attitude behind the scenes?
NL: Yes there is. I wouldn’t say that-it’s a difficult one. I’m not sure negativity is the right word. When we brought it here to America, we said that Simon had a role to play of honest judge. All the talent shows that I’ve seen in American and done. Popstars stars in the U.K. and I was a judge on that. I was nasty Nigel for the tabloids, but it was just honest. You sang all the right notes and I’m not sure you put them in the right order.
It was little tongue-in-cheek remarks just being slightly touching, slightly edgy, and when they did that here in America, they took that wrong the way and it was all saccharin and sugar and sweet. It felt wrong at that time to bring American Idol here and do that so we said we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be honest, and if anything, we might cross the line. Not as far as … but we might cross the line, and sometimes we did and the rest of the time, we were pretty honest.
If Simon felt like he had to spend a lot of money getting singing lessons when he would never be a singer he would turn around and say, “Sue your singing teacher. Get your money back.” We felt like it was the right thing to do at that time and Simon took that role and made a star around the world of himself with that role. There is nobody that has been able to do that with the honesty that Simon’s done, and then every other show took on oh that we like that we have a nasty Brit or somebody of that ego size or quality of opinion, and so he became the benchmark for it.
This is a different time. We can’t replace what Simon was and what Simon brought to the show because it would always be lesser than Simon. What we could do is go in a completely different direction, and I feel as well as that in the times that we are in, the economic crisis that we are in, everything about society because at the time we brought American Idol I believe that the American society needed honesty and wanted that and applauded that …. Now, we need warmth. We need to know that the positions we find ourselves in we are going to get ourselves out off at some point.
I think a true mark of any program maker is judging the times and society at a certain point as their program goes out. I believe these are times were we need to be warmer, righter and we need to think we have a future. If we can translate that into kids coming on the show from flipping burgers one day to ended up as the star of a television series than we are showing everybody that we have a way out of our lives at this moment in time. I think now is the time to have that warmth, and I think with Randy, Steven, and Jennifer they provide that warmth at this time along with the eccentricity of a rock star.