The 8 Ball 08.06.12: The Top 8 Potential American Idol Judges
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.06.2012
From Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake to Aretha Franklin, Avril Lavigne and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down his top 8 suggestions for the open judging seats on the upcoming season of American Idol!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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For the past two weeks, all sorts of focus has been on American Idol. Or at least, any focus left over after Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the Jacksons and the Olympics were done being discussed. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, both of whom joined the show in 2010, announced last month that they would both be moving on and focusing back on their careers. That means a new Aerosmith album for Tyler, while J-Lo gets to bequeath upon us more of her unending parade schlock romantic comedies and increasingly terrible club hits. Whatever we see from them in the coming months, it meant one important thing for Idol fans; new judges. The first of the judge positions was sewn up quickly as Mariah Carey signed on the dotted line to keep the diva going strong. However, there may still be two judge places to fill, as reports (not yet confirmed or denied) have Randy Jackson transitioning from a judge to more of a mentor position. After a brief week-long cooling-off thanks to the previously-mentioned news stories and events, the open Idol judge seats got renewed focus again late last week when Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion, if you prefer) said he would love to end up at the judge's table. While I don't think that would be a great move by the show, it did get me thinking about who would make a good judge and this week I thought we could look at the top Idol candidates.
Caveat: It's important to note that I did not choose these people based solely on their singing or musical talent, or even whether I like them as performers. While I have some level of appreciation for most of the people on the list, we've seen over the past decade of singing reality shows across multiple networks and continents that being talented as a musical artist is far from the only criteria you need as an Idol judge. You have to be congenial and give good television performances, be able to accurately judge talent (which is different from having talent) and be able to carve your own niche somewhere within the "nice girl" to "brutally honest Simon" spectrum of critique and feedback. Having star power doesn't hurt either as Lopez and Mariah would point out, not to mention a bit of wackiness to your demeanor. (Hello Paula and Steven!) So when you read the list, just keep in mind I wasn't necessarily going for the best performers here.
Just Missing The Cut
#8: John Legend
First up among my candidates is a man who has experience in a singing competition reality show in the one and only John Legend. Legend, a multi-Grammy Award-winning R&B star, spent this summer as a mentor on ABC's Duets. Now in most cases that would disqualify him in my book because he would be committed to another show, but let's face it folks; Duets isn't coming back for a second season. The show was incredibly dull with little fanfare, no suspense in who was going to ultimately win and no chemistry between the mentors. Robin Thicke was fairly useless on the show and Kelly Clarkson is a great singer, but just too nice for a judge on a show like this. Legend, on the other hand, was always entertaining and has a lot of credibility as an artist to boot. The man has won nine Grammys between his four studio albums, which is a pretty good average. He has also worked with a host of big-name artists over the course of his eight-year career from Kanye West and Lauryn Hill to Fergie, Jay-Z and even Ray Charles. Of course his previous reality show experience would come nicely into play as he's learned a little about what it takes to make it on such a show. He has a connection with Mariah as he guested on a track for her Christmas album. There are only two things that he has conceivably going against him. The first is the fact that Mariah has the R&B thing covered, but hers is much more of a pop music flavor so he would be able to carve out. A bit more serious is the fact that he brings with him the stigma of Duets having fallen flat. But if he can get past those and wants to step into the bigger leagues of singing competition shows, Idol could do much, much worse.
#7: Avril Lavigne
Don't laugh; I'm actually dead serious about this. The former "Sk8r Girl" may have her share of haters, but the idea of her being a judge on a show like American Idol isn't as far-fetched as you might think. Back in February before Britney Spears and Demi Lovato were brought on board, Avril Lavigne was in talks with producers to judge The X Factor. That didn't come through obviously, but I can absolutely see where they're coming from and I think she would make even more sense on the current landscape of American Idol. With all due respect to the show, before Steven Tyler came on board the judges were surprisingly one-dimensional in terms of their genre strengths. Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi are all primarily pop-oriented people, Randy Jackson's strength is R&B and Ellen DeGeneres...well, I'm still scratching my head about that. But pop and R&B aren't the only genres out there and it's worth noting that among fourth the show's three most successful winners (Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Adam Lambert & Kelly Clarkson), two of them hail from outside of those genres, or more specifically country and rock. With Tyler running back to Aerosmith, it would make sense to bring someone in with a little bit of rock in their sound and Avril fits that without straying too far from the pop artists that the producers show preference for among the judges. Lavigne also gives off a sense of being a wild child, something that the show has always relied on, but she doesn't actually have a lot of loose cannon tendencies. Lavigne has a history with the show as well, having served as a guest judge after DioGuardi was dumped from the show and by all reports she did well. She doesn't have a lot on her plate at the moment and if she was interested, I am positive she could get a fair bit of consideration.
#6: Ryan Tedder
One of the bigger problems that Idol has seemed to have over the past few years is keeping a stable judging panel. In the past four seasons, the once-stable panel has become a revolving door that has seen six people leave the show, four of them after two years or less. Throughout it all, the one constant has been Randy Jackson. And do you know why that is? It's because frankly, where the hell else is he going to go? Jackson is a boon for Idol because he provides a bridge to remind fans of the show's earlier (more successful) seasons, but he's not so famous that he can't decide to walk away from the show without very serious consideration. Compare that to Lopez and Tyler, who will be topping the charts again within a few months and at the very least weren't looking at as much of a potential loss by leaving. The judges need to provide viewers with a sense of continuity and stability, someone they can hold onto as familiar faces until the contestants begin to make themselves known. When you have people jumping ship after no time flat, it is difficult to maintain that stability. And with Jackson possibly gone, I would not at all be shocked to see Idol's producers get someone who is known more for producing and/or writing than performing.
Enter Ryan Tedder, who has a legit career as a performer thanks to OneRepublic but is perhaps better known for his producing and songwriting credits. While you may not be familiar with him by name, you're very likely familiar with his work. Tedder has produced megahits like Adele's "Rumor Has It," Beyonce's "Halo" and Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield" and has worked with many big names in the current pop scene. Among those big names is an extensive amount of work withIdol alumni, such as Sparks, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, David Cook and Jennifer Hudson. Having a producer on the panel is important because while singers can tell voices and talent, a producer is more likely to be able to see someone and know whether they can be a star or not. Tedder has that quality without a doubt and the fact that he isn't a worldwide name could actually work to his benefit as he could stick around and bring some consistency to the judging panel.
Remember how I said in the caveat that the people on this list were not chosen entirely on their merits as musical artists? Usher is one of the chief examples of that. I find Usher to be one of the most uninspired R&B artists out there. I was actually surprised to find I kind of liked his most recent album Looking 4 Myself, but as a rule I don't enjoy his work and I thought that even before I heard "OMG" and wanted to claw my eardrums out. But outside of his failings as a performer, you have to admit that he has qualifications for Idol. He has name value and is both photogenic and charismatic, meaning that he would play well on camera. He also has the claim to fame of being the guy who signed Justin Bieber to a major-label contract. Hate him all you want for that (I won't disagree), but you can't deny that he saw this kid singing on YouTube and facilitated his rise to become one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. If that isn't a qualification to judge a singing competition than I don't know what is. His vanity label US Records has several other names on it that are close to becoming known quantities as well. I'll be up front here; I don't like Usher as a performer and I rather dislike the idea that he inflicted Bieber on us, but he would be fairly perfect for American Idol.
#4: Carrie Underwood
There have been a couple of American Idol alumni names bandied about in the recent shuffle, namely Adam Lambert and Carrie Underwood. Lambert wouldn't be a bad choice, but there is enough of a pop influence on the show already and considering how many country singers end up on the show it would probably be advisable for them to get a country name on the show. Current rumor has them trying to lure Brad Paisley, but he is said to be too busy touring and such to take it on. With that being the case, why not Underwood? Getting a former contestant on the show would quite possibly lure back older viewers who were fans of Underwood's during her run, and she and Kelly Clarkson are regularly shifting positions as the most successful Idol graduates which means she has a strong fanbase outside of just those who followed her in season four. Clarkson actually endorsed her in a recent interview as a potential judge which couldn't hurt matters. Underwood would give a female voice on the show that is a bit less diva-like than past judges like Paula Abdul and J-Lo, not to mention Mariah. She would be higher on this list if not for one major obstacle; her Blown Away tour is currently ongoing. But if Idol came calling with a good enough offer, scheduling could likely be worked out; at worst she would only have to miss the auditions. It would be kind of cool to see an Idol winner come full circle and as an added bonus, it would emphasize the legitimacy of the show over its competition in that they've created a star big enough to actually be viewed as a mentor.
#3: Aretha Franklin
An interesting development came about a couple of weeks ago, soon after Lopez and Tyler announced they were walking away from Idol. In the midst of names like Carey, Miley Cyrus and Fergie were being rumored for the show, a legend of the industry stepped up and expressed her interest. In the arena of soul/R&B there are few living people more respected than Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul has a recording career that has spanned over half a century and has given us some of the greatest R&B songs of all-time. Do I really need to list them all? Let's just settle the debate with one word: "Respect." There was a concern a couple years back about her health but that seems to have been laid to rest, and assertions by Kathie Lee Gifford that Franklin isn't well-known enough by today's kids is frankly ridiculous. She is known by just about everyone and her body of work speaks for itself. What's more, she has shown a history of appreciating new artists and nurturing them, which is of course the point of the show. She's an outspoken individual who has no problem cutting to the bone if she needs to, but she isn't mean about it. The only real concern would possibly be her refusal to fly but that's a minor quibble at worst. If Idol wants to make people take their show seriously again and differentiate themselves from The Voice and The X Factor, putting Aretha at the table next to Mariah Carey would be one hell of a way to accomplish that.
Rumors have popped up that the producers of Idol have approached Kanye West to see if there is interest in doing the job. All due respect to Kanye for his musical talent and work as a producer, but I think Idol can do better if they want to go that route. By that I mean the one and only Jay-Z. Some might balk at the idea of a rapper judging a singing competition, but those people need to remember that Jay founded Roc-A-Fella Records and was the president of Def Jam from 2004 through 2007, during which he discovered and launched the career of Rihanna. Say what you want about Rihanna's music but she's one of the top pop superstars on the planet right now without a doubt and it was Jay who found and nurtured her as a talent. The biggest obstacle would be the fact that he's got so much going on, he may not have time to do it between his music career, his Rocawear clothing line, acting as co-brand director for Budweiser Select, his ownership stake in the Nets, producing the soundtrack for NBA 2K13 and his family life. But if he can find the time it would be a coup for the show, which would likely see a huge boost thanks to Jay's star power and the inclusion of a hip-hop star in general.
#1: Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake may well not be the first name to come into people's minds when they're thinking of potential American Idol judges. The former 'NSYNC member-turned-pop superstar has been more or less out of the public eye in terms of music for the last five years as he pursues a career in acting that is going surprisingly well. But Timberlake would be the perfect host, for a lot of reasons. He has pretty much done it all in the music business in a fairly short time, scoring huge hits and releasing two incredibly successful albums. He is also viewed as a guy who rose from the weak reputation of boy band pop to become his own artist; he's a breakout success which means that he would be able to relate to the young names trying to win the competition and dispense advice. People also like to forget that while he isn't recording music himself, he does serve as the chairman and CEO of his own record label Tennman Records, which means he has experience with discovering talent. And as we've already noted, he's more than just a singer and the time he's spent in front of a camera would do wonders for a stint on the show. He's young, popular across age demographics and despite his involvement in various businesses and charities he isn't so busy that he would not be able to schedule time for the show. And let's not discount the publicity that would come out of Timberlake on one show, Britney Spears on another and Christina Aguilera on the third. That alone would be a marketing campaign that writes itself; in fact you wouldn't need to write anything because the press would write it for you. Could Idol afford him? Hard to say, but if they could I think they would be crazy not to at least try because he would be a huge boon for the show.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
With American Idol on the brain, this week I'm including a video from an Idol alumni who didn't make the list, although she was mentioned a few times. Kelly Clarkson, as I said previously, is neck-and-neck with Carrie Underwood as the most successful person to have appeared on the show to date and she's carved out a very good career for her. Here's one of my favorites of hers, both in terms of video and song, "Never Again." Angry Kelly is pretty hot.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.