April 11, 2012 at 7:06 AM ET
Throughout the “American Idol” season, the finalists can count on love and support from Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. That's because the trio of judges has two types of feedback: “You’re the best ever!” or “You’re really great but this would make you even better!” To the uninitiated observer, it would seem like these finalists are all destined to be huge successes, dominating the Top 40 charts for years to come.
Jimmy Iovine knows better. As the chairman of Interscope Records, he’ll get the task of trying to convince the “Idol” TV audience to become music buyers in the months after the May finale, when everyone's focus has moved on to the next singing competition. He doesn’t care so much about whether a singer has a great backstory or a winning smile – he needs someone who can record songs that will make people want to buy them.
That’s why he’s miscast as the show's mentor. He’d be a much better fit as one of the judges.
Iovine is the only one who tells the contestants what they did wrong or what they need to do to get better, rather than telling them what great shining stars they are. Every Thursday night we hear his recaps, and they’re spot on. The only problem is that they occur a day late to influence the voting.
In his Wednesday night role, Iovine’s comments are limited to predictions of what might happen. We briefly see him and the guest mentor working with everyone, and he says what he thinks each singer needs to do to nail the performance. But as to whether the contestants hit the mark, that’s not aired until the following night.
Because he and the three judges look at the performers differently, there is often genuine disagreement in their opinions. Last week, J.Lo spent Wednesday all but knocking on doors and holding up signs to get people to vote for the now eliminated DeAndre Brackensick. Iovine called her out for it Thursday. Elise Testone struggled, but the judges were gentle and blamed it on song selection. Iovine said she simply choked. Hollie Cavanagh got the gentle “not your best effort” from the judges. Iovine said that it wasn’t even a great high-school performance.
Ask yourself two questions: Which of those angles is most entertaining? And which is most accurate? Both are Iovine’s.
He doesn’t just focus on the also-rans. For example, he warned Phillip Phillips that “It's very difficult to push yourself when everyone's telling you you're so great.” Phillips, as he always does with criticism, shrugged and mumbled something about how he was who he was and wasn’t going to change. Everyone cheered, including the judges.
It’s great that Phillips has a strong sense of himself as an artist. Testone’s the same way. It is easier to lose by trying to change to please people every week than it is by staying true to yourself. And Phillips is one of the favorites and can afford to go his own way.
But it’s also true that nobody is on “Idol” because they got sick of big record labels beating down their door to get them to sign a contract and wanted to get a deal this way instead. If any of the hopefuls were ready to be stars right now, they’d already be stars. Iovine’s purpose is to get them to that next level, something that none of the contestants has shown the ability to do on their own.
Randy, J.Lo and Steven, along with host Ryan Seacrest, treat the contestants like they’ve already made it big. Iovine is the guy who treats them as they are – wannabes with talent in need of polish. Since the judges we have now aren’t willing to ... well ... judge the performers to that exacting standard, it’s time to move Iovine into that role instead.
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