Tonight marks the fourth-season finale of “Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew” (MTV, 9:00 p.m. EDT), and to mark the occasion, the titular producer and “American Idol” judge got on the phone with EW.com to discuss the AfroBorike-vs.-We Are Heroes “ABDC” finale, the addition of Ellen DeGeneres to “Idol’s” judges panel, and critics who are tired of him using the word “Dawg” in every episode of the nation’s No. 1 television program.
There’s been a wide-range of responses to Ellen DeGeneres joining the “Idol” judges’ panel. What would you say to people who argue Ellen doesn’t have the musical background or the toughness to be a good judge?
Jackson: Between myself, Simon and Kara, we’re so well-versed in the music industry, I don’t know if there needs to be any more insider information talking about the music and everything. (Music) is clearly what we all do every day as our real life’s work — even though we have other TV shows and other things going on — and Ellen, she can represent the voice of the people. It’s almost like having someone from the public on the panel. Ellen is very smart, very talented, and is a huge, huge, giant music fan, along with being a friend of mine, a friend of Ryan’s, a friend of Simon’s. We’ve all known her for a while and we love her, and I think she’ll be really good. I think she’ll offer that insight of the person sitting at home.
I often think, though, that folks sitting on their couches at home sound more like Simon Cowell. The public is actually really critical, no?
Jackson: Yes, some people do, and other people give people the benefit of the doubt. That’s the reason you have a multiple of judges. It’s like being in a band — I love bands. I love rock bands, and it’s fun talking about this band I manage, Paper Tongues out of Charlotte, N.C. But the great thing about bands, you don’t like the guitar player, maybe you like the bass player or the drummer, or the keyboard player. There’s an opinion there for everyone, and definitely the panel plays a huge part as a whole. Remember if you sat four people on a couch, someone might say ‘Oh my god, that person sucks!’ Someone else might say, ‘They’re nice or at least they’re cute and I like their top; they’re not that bad.”’
As someone obsessed with “Idol” myself, I have to say I prefer a three-judge format. Last season, sometimes it felt like with all the judges’ feedback, we barely had time to hear the contestants singing. What would you say to that criticism, and is it something you’ve talked about behind the scenes?
Jackson: I think this season we’ll be a lot better at that. Last season was the first time we (had four judges), and it’s a little bit of a tough time, it’s a little wrinkle when you first do it. But the show was originally planned as a four-person panel. So we’ll get our hands around that a little better this time, and actually now I really like the four-person look. When we first did it I was like (makes ambivalent sound), but I really like it now.
Of all the folks who’ve been reported as “Idol” guest judges during the audition episodes — Victoria Beckham, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Neil Patrick Harris, Joe Jonas, Kristin Chenoweth, Shania Twain, Mary J. Blige — who was the toughest?
Jackson: I don’t know if anyone was really tough. It’s hard for any artist to be tough on another would-be artist, because they remember what it was like to come up, and no one ever wants to bash them. It’s about being truthful and honest, and there’s a harsher way to do it and a nicer way to do it.
Without Paula Abdul on the panel, some people were worried about the lack of a nurturing voice for the contestants. Is that actually important?
Jackson: I think you’ll get some of that from Ellen. And I always try — even if it’s a negative comment — to do it in a nicer sort of way. Simon goes for the jugular, to the excitement of a lot of people. We give a fair bit of that. But honestly this is a show about people trying to jump on a rocket ship to their career, and (us) giving them what they need to get there. Because if you think we’re tough on them, the public is a lot worse than we are.
There was a Media Curves study last February that actually ranked you as “Idol’s” most popular judge. Thoughts?
Jackson: I didn’t know about that, and I’m shocked to hear that. Usually in those polls, Simon is the one. I am so happy and I really welcome it. (Laughs) How about that? One for the good guys!
On the flip side of that, how about people who say that you rely too much on phrases like ”for me, for you” or “aiight” or “pitchy”? Does it bother you when people say that? And will you try to shake it up with regard to those critiques in season 9?
Jackson: That’s just a sound bite they edit together. And you get stuck on the words ‘dawg’ and you get stuck on those things sometimes. But what it really is, if you really listen to what I say and not listen to the sound bite (compilation) that happens at the end of the season, when we’re at the finale and they’re making fun of us, that’s where that comes from by the way. You can string together any reporter saying “What, what, what, what, what” a thousand times and it sounds funny. And it’s hard being the first one to speak, I’ve got to tell you. It’s hard to jump in first and give your critique, because you’ve got to jump in right away and do your thing. People have selective listening for the most part, but I think I actually say a lot of valuable, good things.
So let’s shift gears to “America’s Best Dance Crew.” This season’s contestants, and especially the final two ( and ) have been really diverse, and different from the hip-hop-centric style the show favored in its first three seasons.
Jackson: We want diversity of crews, diversity of styles, and to keep moving the envelope down the road. This is a show for everyone of all styles of dance, people who can really dance and pull together a great crew.
AfroBorike has had some raunchy moments this year.
Jackson: One of the things I always wondered: “Where were the Latin dancers?” I want the Latin vibe, and that vibe is always very sensual, from Shakira going back down the line.
In one routine, though, AfroBorike simulated oral sex. What are your thoughts on pushing the envelope like that?
Jackson: (Laughs.) I’m not sure our thing is to push the boundaries, but to push the boundaries of dance and to really herald that brand and identify that brand of dance so it can be universal in all sorts of ways. These were people that were more salsa or ballroom types, and now you see them on a show that’s a hip-hop kind of show, a show that’s got krumping on it.
What about the other member of the final two, We Are Heroes?
Jackson: On the other side, We Are Heroes, they represent a contemporary style of dance. I’m just so happy we’re representing what really goes on in America. All shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, styles, everything. This is literally — people say it all the time — but this literally is a show for everyone and everybody.
The two finalists are very different from what we’ve seen in the first three seasons of “ABDC.”
Jackson: Part of that is the public voting. The crews do their thing every week and throw it down, but the public’s mind is being expanded, too, and allowing other styles in.
Judge JC Chasez’s foppish fashion has gotten toned down a little bit this year. Were you pushing for that from behind the scenes?
Jackson: (Laughs.) I love JC. JC is always pushing the envelope. He was an integral part of *NSync and he’s a dope, talented guy himself as a singer, dancer, and writer. So he’s always pushing the envelope of style, and I think he still is, but he’s just honing it in this season. What do I want to be? Who do I really want to look like? I think he looks fly, but it’s funny you mentioned it. (Laughs.) That’s funny.
Who are you rooting for between We Are Heroes and AfroBorike?
Jackson: It’s a really tough one but I must say I love the story of We Are Heroes and what it represents in the world and in the American culture. Anybody can do it. Any shape, size, whatever, coming from anywhere, any way. AfroBorike is great, too, but my heart goes a little more to the story of We Are Heroes. They give you a little of the pumped fist. Sometimes these shows are really about the “Rocky” story, the ones you never thought could do it or would do it. But they’re doing it. I’m always really rooting for the underdog.
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