American Idol and it’s sustainability is a topic I have tried to write about three times in the last eight weeks. Each time a fluke in Word, WordPress and then my Ipad losing my entire writing. Each time, it’s been like a clear message saying, “No Elizabeth not yet.” Here is my forth attempt. The topic of American Idol and it’s sustainability is a question that many are asking. There have been concerns over the deliberate and radical eliminations. Concerns over the talent being nothing like that of contestants of the past. Sound issues and perhaps the simple fact that American Idol has run it’s course. Will it be lucky Season 13? Had I not had my IdolTweethearts experience I might be lead to believe what the tabloids are printing, and what I am seeing and hearing on TV.
Last January I had the opportunity to sit and have lunch with the the former Fox Sports chairman David Hill and Trish Kinane one of the executive producers of American Idol. It was one of those lunches where you realize you have the uninterrupted attention of two very busy people and two very intentional people. I was joined by Meg Hodson & Emily Hill also know as the IdolTweethearts. We had the opportunity to ask questions about American Idol and what’s next. What surprised me was the detail and passion in their answers. It was not lost on me that American Idol was in for some big changes as well as some recovering from dipping ratings from past seasons. The show had built a solid viewing audience in earlier years and the past few years the audiences were rapidly declining. What changes could possible be made? In business that next BIG THING has a shelf life of about 8-10 years. American Idol had already outlived that benchmark.
David and Trish each shared how American Idol had decided to give back more to the Top 30 contestants. In previous seasons the best was saved for last. Those who made it into the Top 10 receiving a lot of coaching and training. Why not offer that to ALL the Top 30. The Randy Jackson Workshop was launched. I was there for a full day and watched what Idol was giving back. Offering music education and understanding of the music industry to each of the Top 30. Each contestant given more to go back home with. In past years, you sing, you get cut, you go home. The only memory you have is new friendships, and interactions with the judges. This year those who were cut from the Top 30 were given so much more. Vocal and stage coaching. Voice lessons and mentoring. Trish explained how American Idol wanted to raise more awareness of real musical talent. Not just that one hit wonder, but allowing contestants an experience that would help them be able to build their own brand once cut from American Idol.
Trish shared the challenges of what this year might look like. Change would occur and not all would know how that change would build ratings in one season or over the next few seasons to come. The conversation was riveting to be part of and both Trish and David instilled new hope to hold out on American Idol for the entire season. All of this change would come with some bumps. The message was clear. American Idol wanted to do more and give back more.
Is America getting this? I don’t think so. American Idol has missed something here? It kind of feels like the same show. I get frustrated that American Idol has invested time and efforts behind the scenes with these contestants but that message is not being communicated. The Top 30 did not leave as abruptly as we may think. Let’s face it Americans were upset when they did not see their favorite sing for a chance. Time had to be cut short for air time. Eventually people would have been cut. It is an elimination show. I think if American Idol had taken more air time to show what happened with those Top 30 behind the scenes American’s would not have been so upset. We have only seen glimpses. Time and education, like no other season was poured into these contestants. Contestants were cared for and given something they could take with them to build their own music careers once Idol was over. This is a first, yet that message was lost somewhere in the show. I think American Idol should have done more to highlight these changes, and interview some of those cut to share what that experience meant to them.
Later I sat at a table with a few of the Top 30. Jess Muess, Majesty Rose, Maurice Townsend and a few others. What they shared with me brought tears to my eyes. They shared how much they appreciated being there. One young man said, “If I went home today I would be able to do more with my music, I have learned so much.” Each of these contestants went around the table and shared a little of their experience. I was blown away and excited to get behind American Idol more than ever. I had not watched the last few seasons and a transformation was in the making. You could see, experience it and feel it.
Sometime during the day I asked one of the camera guys how many millions of dollars were represented in these workshops. I thought it was interesting how every where we went, full camera sets, lighting, and people. All taping each circuit and class and yet very little shown to Americans. This was a very big deal. I can appreciate that American Idol aired the short conversations with Randy Jackson, but Americans were already tired of him. I even muted my TV a few times when those interviews popped up. I wanted to hear from the contestants and what this experience meant to them.
Now what. How does the American Idol story get told? Outside of a two hour show, it might take the IdolTweethearts showing up a few more times behind the scenes to help tell the story. I think when I lost my first three writings I did not get to upset. I figured that American Idol would be telling their own story, but they are not. They are getting lost being just another singing show that is tired and old and desperately seeking to try new things. However sitting with David and Trish there was no desperation. There was a calm and clear understanding that it might take a season or two to work this out. They do need to spruce up a bit more. Adding Harry Connick Jr. was a big deal and American’s love him. You can read more on that HERE. Was he enough for Americans?
I think American Idol is going to pull through. I have confidence in the two people who took time out to visit with the IdolTweethearts. They bring a calm in the storm. I have confidence that the decision to invest more into the contestants will have long term favor. Later that afternoon David Hill was walking down the hall. I called him over. I asked him, “What goes through your thought process or filters in a decision as big as bringing Jennifer Lopez ( JLO) back.” It’s no secret she cost a lot to bring back. Here is a man who has made some pretty big decisions for Fox. Seemed like a good question to ask. His answer was was one word, “Instincts” Here is a man who speaks my language. I understood and I knew that American Idol would be lucky 13. I have good instincts. Instincts are what we build our confidences on.
I am now enjoying American Idol more and more each week. There are moments that are a bit stale, and I think American Idol knows this. They are working on trying new things and every solid business will do this to become more sustainable. Their audiences have grown up, and they are growing a new era of audiences. They are learning what that audience looks like, acts like, and enjoys in a music talent show. I think they are going to be able to sustain themselves. American Idol is the only music talent show to every produce Grammy award winning artists. I have one in the making. They have to sustain another 8 years. My 8 year old son wants to try out. He stands with his mic watching and pretending he is on the stage. Thanking American Idol for allowing me the honor of hanging around that lovely day back in January.