For the first time in its history, American Idol will start its 11th season facing down competition from another network singing competition show: NBC’s The Voice, which launches its second season with a plum post-Super Bowl slot and will then start its regular two-hour berth on Mondays. While The Voice won’t go up directly against Idol, it was easy to see at the latter show’s TCA panel today in Pasadena that Idol’s exec producers and judges are feeling a twinge competitive with their Mark Burnett-produced rival.
“The winner of The Voice, I will remind you, was an artist who had a deal at Capitol Records for several years, a failed contract,” said judge Randy Jackson of The Voice victor Javier Colon. “That show was almost ‘second chance people.’”
When asked about Idol’s inaugural winner Kelly Clarkson signing on to be a guest mentor on The Voice, Fox reality programming head Mike Darnell had a quick response: “It’s a compliment to Idol, that other shows want to use our superstars on their shows. We’re not hiring a lot of people on The Voiceto be on our show.” Exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz noted that The Voice ”casts” its auditions with pre-selected talent, whereas Idol auditions have always been an open call. And Jackson followed-up with this quip: “We will never rip off Star Trek like they did with spinning chairs.” Exec. producer Ken Warwick cast his net a bit wider, insisting that Idol is the only reality competition show to develop real superstars, calling Leona Lewis, who won the UK version of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, “a one-and-a-half hit star for 10 minutes.” (Jackson was a bit more sanguine about Cowell’s U.S. version of The X Factor, noting that while its ratings may not have lived up to Cowell’s outsize expectations, “we wish him well.”)
In the same breath, of course, everyone also insisted that they are simply focused on putting together the best program they can, and don’t concern themselves with rival shows. “American Idol is a phenomenon, the gold standard,” said Darnell. And for their part, judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler remained mostly silent with regard to Idol’s rivals, although Lopez did joke that the press was madly writing down her colleagues’ catty quotes.
As for host Ryan Seacrest, he defected several questions about reports he would replace Matt Lauer on The Today Show as part of his ongoing negotiations with NBC Universal, saying, “I can’t imagine life without American Idol.” When one reporter asked if he would be interested in hosting, yep, NBC’s The Voice, Seacrest reiterated, “At this point, I only see myself hosting American Idol.” Of course, Seacrest’s deal with Fox ends after Idol’s 11th season, but Darnell says his expectation is that Seacrest will be hosting Idol for as long as Fox produces it.
Other highlights from the lively Idol TCA panel:
– For the semi-final rounds this year, there will be no “Beatles week” in Las Vegas. Instead, contestants will have to sing a late-’50s-style pop song in groups in a to-be-announced location. For the final showdown, semi-finalists will each sing a song accompanied by a single instrument.
– Steven Tyler says the new Aerosmith record is well on its way, with several songs in various stages of completion – although he hasn’t had time to put anything to lyrics yet. He did note, however, that the band’s sales went up 260 percent last year thanks to his higher visibility on Idol. “I can’t go anywhere now,” Tyler said. “It was like that before, but I really can’t go anywhere now.”
– And Jimmy Iovine will be returning this season, though it was unclear if he would remain a season-long mentor.
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