American Idol back for its 14th season on Fox

Keith Urban (photo by Margie Barron)

Keith Urban (photo by Margie Barron)

American Idol is back for its 14th season on Fox TV. In addition to featuring singers hoping for instant fame as the next American Idol, the judges give the talent show its real star-power with Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban, as well as host Ryan Seacrest. This season also has music executive Scott Borchetta (replacing Randy Jackson) as a mentor to the hopefuls. Taylor Swift’s long-time mentor, Borchetta will sign Idol’s winner to his Big Machine Records.

Now all the show needs is a parade of sensational contestants who can capture the imagination of the public and earn their place with the American Idol discoveries of the past, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee and Jennifer Hudson.

That poses the question: is it easier or more difficult these days to uncover future superstars, especially with the wave of talent shows, such as NBC’s The Voice, that American Idol generated?

Country music’s hit-maker Keith Urban spoke to the TV critics at the last TCA press tour and said, “This is not the same industry that Carrie Underwood won and went into. It’s not the same one that Kelly Clarkson won and went into. Everything is relative, even the definition of a superstar today—I don’t know what the definition of that is, other than someone who is able to create and connect with a substantial audience, and able to do that on a consistent basis. That would be probably the definition of a superstar. But is it about selling records these days? Not so much as it used to be. Finding a live audience is, obviously, crucial. What I love about this show, and why I love that Scott (Borchetta) is involved, is that there’s so much validity in all of the facets of someone’s talent.”

Harry Connick Jr,  (photo by Margie Barron)

Harry Connick Jr, (photo by Margie Barron)

Both Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. are considered “musicians’ musicians,” and have earned their respect in the music industry by paying their dues with their experiences over the years as performers. But they were also generous about noting that the American Idol contestants are also gathering experience. Connick explained, “Somebody came up to me awhile back, and they said, ‘I don’t like American Idol because I think these young musicians should pay their dues.’ I said, ‘Let me explain something to you. When you audition for American Idol and if you get out of it in the very first round, I would call that experience. You’ve experienced something. If you make it all the way to the end and win, you have basically taken six, eight, ten months out of your year and dedicated it to the most rigorous, intensive, high pressure experience.’ You’re surrounded by people who are constantly telling you things that will help you improve your craft. So that is about the best experience you can get for any musicians. And listen, I’m a jazz musician, so I’ve heard a lot of jazz musicians who are not so sure. Well, I give it up to anybody who will get on the American Idol stage and take that ride. It is one of the most grueling entertainment experiences I have ever seen. And I think there’s absolutely nothing negative to say about the American Idol experience. I think it’s been an amazing opportunity for young people.”

Keith is also a champion of the whole competition process. He said, “I also think that certain people are ready much faster than others for this journey. And this show will filter that, and it will sift it and find those people who are ready. Maybe they’ve never played live in their life, and they’re just extraordinarily good on stage. They just have that thing. Others need a tremendous amount of experience to become good on stage. But at the end of the day, I always feel like nobody gets out of paying their dues. You may do it in front of an arena full of people, or you may do it in a small club, but at some point you’re going to have to figure out how to do it. But if someone is ready for it, and this show gives them that shot, that’s a beautiful thing.” #


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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