As Jennifer Lopez emerged from a cloud of dry ice at the Forum in Los Angeles last week, the year's worst-kept pop culture rumor finally became a fact: Fox executives had chosen the ''Waiting for Tonight'' singer, along with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and lone returning judge Randy Jackson, to sit behind the table when American Idol returns for its 10th season in January. When the smoke cleared, however, a more surprising story emerged: The aging (but still potent) franchise is desperate to launch another Carrie Underwood-size success and is making a host of long-overdue changes to remove unnecessary obstacles like forcing contestants to tackle outdated theme nights and to sing outside their genres that have hampered the commercial prospects of its recent alumni.
Indeed, evidence of Idol's declining star-making power can be found in the sales results of Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, who, following the show's eighth season, released critically solid debuts but racked up respective U.S. sales of only 318,000 and 731,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In an attempt to ensure a platinum future for its next winner, Idol is enlisting Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, as the in-house mentor to bridge the gap between selecting a season 10 champ and creating his or her signature sound. (Iovine's presence is no coincidence; in August, 19 Entertainment announced it was replacing Sony with Interscope's parent company, Universal, as the record label for all future American Idol artists.)
Contestants ''will have the complete focus and dedication of the entire Universal and Interscope team at a much earlier stage than ever before,'' Idol executive producer Simon Fuller tells EW. ''They will be mentored by Jimmy and his team from the very first show after Hollywood Week.'' Sharon Dastur, program director at Z100 in New York, says she hopes the changes will produce a radio-ready single for the next Idol champ within a few weeks of the season finale. ''Viewers get so invested in the show. They pick their favorites, they vote for their favorites, and then the show ends and we don't hear [a single] from that winner for months,'' Dastur says. ''We want hits! We don't ask for much.''
To that end, Iovine said during Idol's press conference that ''the best producers in the world'' think Timbaland and Polow Da Don will be recruited to help contestants. ''They're going to be bringing them along the same way they bring any artist that signs with Interscope,'' said Iovine. ''I think we're going to see great improvements every week [from] the artists.'' Disco Night, you will not be missed. (Additional reporting by Simon Vozick-Levinson)
How the Idols have fallen
While some have posted respectable numbers, it's been a long time since an Idol champ made the leap to megastar with their postshow debut album. Here's looking at you, Lee DeWyze?
Carrie Underwood 7 million
Kelly Clarkson 2.7 million
Fantasia 1.8 million
Ruben Studdard 1.8 million
David Cook 1.3 million
Jordin Sparks 1 million
Taylor Hicks 704,000
Kris Allen 318,000
Sales figures courtesy of Nielsen Soundscan