Bullz-Eye Associate Editor Will Harris is clearly sprinkled with some kind of magical fairy dust that makes him better than the rest of us. We say this because he handles all of our conference call interviews, and when he jumps on a call, he’s always the first in line. Due to a family emergency, however, Will could not join the call with "American Idol" judge and onetime Journey bassist Randy Jackson, so we did the call without him, following his steps to get on the call on the early side…and proceeded to not get the chance to ask a single question in an hour-long chat. Like we said, Will is better than the rest of us.
However, the people that were on that call got some pretty good stuff from Mr. "Yo yo yo, dawg," including his favorite Idols, how William Hung has helped people, and the possibility of Mariah Carey mentoring future Idols (shudder).
Reporter: Simon has bitched and moaned about the guest judges that you guys bring in during auditions. Do you mind the guest judges, or could you live without them yourself?
Randy Jackson: I think I could definitely live without them. I mean, the show works because it’s the three of us on the panel and kind of what we do and how we interact. I don’t necessarily think that we need guest judges. I think when people come into the arena that we judge in, it’s often a little awkward and a little hard for them. I think people look at the show as a fan and go, "I could do that. I’d love to be there." It’s almost like saying I could be a pitcher or I could win the Cy Young Award. Actually, I couldn’t. I don’t even know if I could pitch little league. I mean, yes, you could do it, but is it going to be great or are you just there for the TV face time?
Reporter: How many days do you spend at each audition city and how many people do you see in each audition city?
RJ: We spend about two days in each city. We generally see about 200 people a day.
Reporter: A day? Holy cow.
RJ: Yes. That’s a lot of singing, dude. A lot of being sung at.
Reporter: Every year they make a few tweaks to the show. Anything new this year that we can expect that you know of?
RJ: I’m going to wear more yellow and lime green in honor of Gnarls Barkley.
Reporter: I’m looking forward to that.
RJ: I’m going to come dressed like a Jedi every week like Gnarls Barkley. No. We have a few things that we change, but I think the formula is pretty much what it is. I mean you’ll see a couple of wrinkles here and there, but of course, I can’t tell you what that is.
Reporter: I know the success of the show continues to surprise people every year that it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. How long will that continue and what would have to happen for the show to suddenly not be as successful as it was the year before?
RJ: Listen, I mean, I think this is the greatest music talent show ever, right? I mean I know that me, Simon, and Paula, we never really think about the ratings or look at that or whatever. I think we just go out and kind of do what we do. I think there’s an abundance of talent in America and there will never be not a lot of talent out there. I mean, you see what’s happening to Jennifer Hudson, who didn’t even win that year; that tells you right there there’s a lot of great talent out there. It’s just about finding it. I think the show can continue to be successful as long as we go out and find great talent. I don’t know what the numbers are going to be each year. I don’t even think about that, really, because "American Idol" is a search for the next superstar. It’s not a search for the next ratings boost to me. Do you know what I mean?
Reporter: Have you had a chance to see Jennifer Hudson since the whole "Dreamgirls" thing came out? Have you had the chance to commiserate with her at all?
RJ: Yes. I went to the premiere here in LA of "Dreamgirls" and talked to her for quite a long time and then I saw her at a dinner, the Carousel of Hope Ball here in LA that was honoring Clive Davis and Quincy Jones. We talked for a long time there.
Reporter: Is she still maybe asking for advice at all, or...
RJ: No, but she did say, "Thank you for making me your wild card pick," because sometimes we forget; years go by. She was my wild card pick that year. I just say to all of them, "Make sure you make the right record." That’s what it’s all about. We talk about it on the show and we get a lot of flack from it on the show, but it’s all about great songs on the show, great songs after the show. That’s what makes hit records, great songs.
Reporter: It seems like on CBS’ "Rock Star" kind of clicked with some viewers because the song selection was a little more modern. Are there songs that you’re just sick to death of from "American Idol" by now?
RJ: Yes. There are a lot of songs that we’re sick to death of during the auditions. We mentioned "At Last" by Etta James, which is an amazing song, but people just butcher it; "Fallin" by Alicia Keyes, people just butcher that. There are tons of songs that people butcher and I have heard no one yet to ever sing a Mariah Carey song and do it justice. "Rock Star," I don’t know if the ratings were that big, so I don’t know how many people really did connect with it. As far as I know, it probably didn’t connect with that many people. But listen, I think that what we do is it’s about challenging people, so the song selections that we make; it’s not about being modern.
The one thing that I know, being a record producer, is that every kid out there in America knows every song on the radio right now. You could say, "Sing 'Promiscuous’ to me. Sing 'Sexy Back.’" They know all of that. But if I go back and say, "Listen, let me hear you sing some Nat King Cole." "Who is that?" Or better still, "Sing me some Beatles." "Who are they?" "What?" Then it creates the challenge part of the competition. Do you know what I’m saying? Having them sing whatever songs are on the charts is boring because I know they already know them. I know those.
Reporter: I’m looking forward to seeing all of the horrible, horrible, horrible singers this time. I don’t care about the good ones. I like the lousy ones.
RJ: You sound like Simon Cowell. Are you guys friends?
Reporter: Do you like these guys, or do you just think they’re ridiculous and wasting your time?
RJ: I think for the first five seconds or so you like them. You think it’s funny. You’re laughing. Then you go, "Okay. Come on. What is this?" You just know that people watch this show from year to year. You’ve seen Kelly Clarkson. What is she? She’s great. You see Fantasia, Clay, Ruben, now Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Clay, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks. These people are great. Then you go, "You’ve heard them." Then they show up and they’re really horrible. You go, "Something must really be wrong with their hearing." Then you start thinking, "I wonder what they’re seeing, too." Maybe they have me and Simon confused.
Reporter: You mentioned that sometimes you’ll hear 200 auditions a day. How can you, as a judge, give equal time and your attention to the 200th person? Aren’t you just dying by then?
Reporter: How do you explain Jennifer Hudson losing "American Idol" and now blowing away Beyoncé in "Dreamgirls"?
Randy: Me personally, I don’t think she blows away Beyoncé in "Dreamgirls." I went to the premiere of the movie. I think she’s amazing in "Dreamgirls." I think that Jennifer Holiday, who originally sang the song, was equally, probably even more amazing, because it’s harder to be the original one than to be the second or the third one. I think she’s done amazingly well, but I remind people every time the girl that won, her name was Fantasia Barrino and if you want to know why she won, go back and listen to that "Summertime" version that she did. It’s the best "Idol" performance to date. That’s why she won.
Reporter: Randy, I’m reading my Entertainment Weekly last week and it has Nigel Lithgow talking about you.
RJ: Who’s that?
Reporter: He says, "Randy only uses five words over and over all season. We sent him a dictionary, but he doesn’t read it. How can you work with a guy like that?"
RJ: You know that’s a lie, because we’ve done a lot of these interviews, so you know and you watch the show. I think it’s just been Nigel’s running joke for a long time. I think what is really funny about it though is when he talks about the song selection, that we hate some of the song selections. I love the fact that he says the show is not about the songs; it’s about the kids singing. Well, guess what? It’s about songs while you’re on the show, because if you sing a song that’s too hard for you, guess what, you’re not going to sing it very well, right? After you get off the show, what’s it about for your career? Songs again, that song word comes up a lot.
It’s all cool. Look, I mean, I’m a record producer. He’s a TV producer. The funny thing, when I was doing A&R for many years, everyone wanted to be the A&R person, from the guy in the mail room to the promotion guy, the marketing people, the publicist. I guess Nigel just maybe wants to be a judge.
Reporter: I was reading my Entertainment Weekly also and I saw that you were quoted as saying you’re going to call up Mariah Carey and ask her to be a guest judge...not a guest judge, but to mentor the kids and sing on the show. Is that going to happen?
RJ: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it. We’ve tossed it around a bit. I think she’d be great because I think still, for me, she and Whitney and Celine are those three big great divas, I mean some of the better singers of our time that we’ve ever known.
Reporter: Have you talked with Mariah about it?
RJ: I mentioned it to her. We’ll see. I don’t know. We’ll see. You’ve got to stay tuned on that one.
Reporter: She was open to it?
RJ: Yes. I mean, definitely open to it, so we’ll see what happens.
Reporter: Any standouts so far, good contestants? I also saw that people were saying there’s really no front runner and there’s no Carrie Underwood or Fantasia this year. Is that true?
RJ: I think what’s going to happen this year is Simon and I have been saying it’s more like season one. I think it’s going to be somebody that really grows during the competition. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know. There are a bunch of standouts, but you know what happens is what we’ve seen over the years is that you see these people audition in their audition city and they’re great. Then they come to Hollywood week and they’re not so great and the tension just gets worse and worse and worse as the season goes on. So it’s who can really stand in there and take it and show up every week and be amazing.
Reporter: What’s up with Seattle? Everyone is saying it’s the worst city ever. What happened there?
RJ: I don’t know if it was that bad. I thought we found some pretty good people in Seattle, so I’m not going to say it was the worst city. To me we found three great people in Seattle. I’m happy.
Reporter: I want to go back to Jennifer Hudson for a second. The irony is that in "Dreamgirls" she plays someone who has an amazing voice, but is bounced because she doesn’t have the looks and the charisma of some of the others. Some people thought that’s what happened in "American Idol," too. That she had an amazing voice, maybe one of the best there was, but she just, for whatever reason; I don’t know; looks, charisma, something, was bounced sooner than she should have been. How do you feel about that?
RJ: I think she was bounced sooner than she should have been. But if you remember that season, and it’s hard for people to go back and think about it; people don’t even remember that she was my wild card pick. We had our own Dreamgirls that season. We had LaToya, Jennifer Hudson, and Fantasia Barrino. So the thing that was going to happen is who was ever the best singer at that time. Fortunately for her, Fantasia, as I said, "Summertime" is the only time that I’ve gotten goose bumps from any singer on "Idol" during the show. She blew that out. That was better than anybody’s performance for me to date, so to me she deserved to win that season. I mean, look, you saw Ruben win. It’s not about weight. It’s not about look. I mean, that’s what "Idol" is about. It’s not about any of that, so I don’t think there’s any truth to that.
Reporter: In other words, it’s song choice, and "Summertime" was the ultimate song choice for Fantasia?
RJ: It was the ultimate thing for Fantasia. Fantasia is an amazing singer, so (Hudson) lost to someone equally amazing and at that time probably was better on the show than Jennifer was consistency-wise. I mean, it’s just really being honest. The public only calls it as they see it. They don’t have the industry savvy that you and I have. Do you know what I’m saying? I mean, listen, she lost to a very, very talented singer.
Reporter: To stay on that for a second, I noticed last year there was a lot of personality in the finalists you guys chose. I’m curious how big a part of the formula is that? I’m thinking about people like Daughtry, who kind of (went from) nothing to everything. Then there was Kelly Pickler and others. How much of the back story really figures in what you these people for?
RJ: Well, the public actually picks these people to put them in the finals. We do the auditions, but then the public starts eliminating them, as you will start seeing next week on the show. Definitely, personality plays a huge part because you know the three qualities I look for is unbelievable, unique talent, and some sense of star potential, if you will. That means some great personality, something that’s going to engage people and also that confidence, that really eye-of-the-tiger kind of persistence. Do you know what I mean?
RJ: So I think you look for that in all singers. I think if you think back to Elvis, Elvis had all of that. If you think to whomever you love, whether it’s Sinatra, Nat King Cole, whoever you love, whether it’s Prince or whomever, they all had all of those things. I think that’s what makes up a great, great superstar.
Reporter: When it comes to the songs that the two finalists at the end are singing, that they record, do these have to be in your opinion, these big, swelling, sentimental ballads?
RJ: Do you mean with words like "blessed" and "love" and "thank God" and "without you, I wouldn’t be alive"? Do you mean stuff like that?
Reporter: Yes, like that.
RJ: No, not necessarily, but I think, listen, it’s a very emotional competition, right? So I think what they’re trying to create is to try and find a song that takes you through the journey. It’s like when you graduate from college or high school, and they’re singing "Pomp and Circumstance." It’s that song, you know, or like the season that we had the Sinatra song, I did it "My Way." It kind of encapsulates the whole emotion of the season. These kids go through a lot and they come a long way, so it doesn’t have to be that, no, but I think that is kind of the whole general concept.
Reporter: If I can throw in one more here, I’m always interested to see what the contestants learn from the celebrities, who come in to coach them, and then kind of what they take with them in other performances. What I see a lot of is people like Barry Manilow or whoever will say to them, "You’re singing that fine, but there’s no emotion behind it." Tell me a little bit about that. Do you think that’s something that the technically competent singers aren’t thinking about or maybe at this stage in their careers they just don’t know how to do the emotional part?
RJ: Yes. I think what really happens is we pick kids off the street. This is an open call to whoever wants to show up if they’re between the ages of 16 and 28, so these are people that are not seasoned veterans. This is the reason that we, myself and the judges, keep talking about song choice during the season; because guess what? Not only what these guest judges tell them, what we tell them, if they really listen and really went back over everything we said to them, they’re getting the lessons of life from three industry professionals plus the guest judges.
What Barry is basically saying is a song is comprised of a bunch of things. It’s the lyric. It’s the melody. It’s also you being able to tie in emotionally to what that song means. What’s the lyric saying? What are you trying to convey to the next listener? Also, the difficulty of the degree of singing in that song; as in, if you can’t sing like Mariah Carey, then you shouldn’t be trying to sing Mariah Carey songs. If you are not as good a singer as Celine Dion, you shouldn’t be trying to sing Celine Dion songs. No matter whether you love them or not. I love a lot of things. I love Mario Andretti, but I don’t race cars. Do you know what I mean?
What he’s saying is do you feel the emotion of this song? Do you know what it’s saying? Have you taken the time or are you just so technically fixated on the runs and whatever? I have a lot of that problem with a lot of singers during the season as well, because I know that they’re not tying in emotionally to the song, so it doesn’t quite get across to the listener. Do you know what I mean?
Reporter: Maybe it’s a torched blues song and they’re smiling through the whole thing and look happy.
RJ: Or just giving it the wrong treatment, but I think a lot of that really is they just don’t really know who they are. That’s when you pick the wrong songs, but the reason that we tell them that it’s the wrong songs is because if you don’t know who you are, you should learn who you are, so that you sing better, so that you can have an easier road to some success.
Reporter: Is there anything that’s different about the show, just a little tweak of it?
RJ: Simon is going to dye his hair red.
Reporter: And you’re going to dress in lime green.
RJ: No. I think now, since I was going to do the Jedi think like Gnarls Barkley, I think I’m going to do something different. I think I’m going to come in scrubs. I’m the new McDreamy.
Reporter: What’s the advice that people most ignore that you wish they wouldn’t?
Reporter: Randy, I want to come back to the bad singers for just a second. That’s been a mainstay, but when I spoke with (the show’s producers), they said that they were kind of trying to rid the show of the riffraff, so where are you guys drawing the line?
RJ: I think you’re still going to get some of that through, because we see a cross section of everyone and it’s hard to just stamp that completely out, but I think if someone walks in the door and they’re in this weird costume – there was the gondolier one season in Vegas – you just go, "Okay, do you believe that you really have talent or are you here just for the buffoonery of it all?" Do you know what I mean? I think we’re trying to draw the line somewhat there. Do you know what I’m saying?
RJ: If you come dressed as a tin man, I’m going to go, "You’re not a singer."
Reporter: I wanted to ask you about the concerns too that you may or may not have. You’ve got this song competition going on at the same time, so how do you feel about that? What do you think it will do in terms of possibly diminishing the impact of the actual competition?
RJ: I don’t know if it will diminish the impact or whatever. I think great songs are still hard to find. I wish everyone luck in either writing or whoever is going to submit out there or whatever. I think it’s really, really hard. I mean I’m a songwriter myself, so I know how hard it really, really is.
Reporter: Last night, "You’re the One That I Want" premiered.
RJ: What show is that?
Reporter: Yes, right.
RJ: No, what show is that?
Reporter: Seriously? It’s the competition show for "Grease," where ...
RJ: Do you mean another kind of copy "Idol" show? Wow! Another one.
Reporter: Yes. Well, I was going to ask you about that because, coincidentally, there are three judges, including a snotty English man.
Randy: You must be kidding. Come on.
RJ: Isn’t it funny? See, this shows you there’s not a lot of originality, is there?
Reporter: No, not really, but I’m wondering how you feel when you hear about it? I mean it didn’t do great last night, but it didn’t go bad either.
RJ: Here’s what I said earlier to someone. I really honestly mean this. Me, being a musician and being a record producer and a songwriter and everything that I do and being up for Grammys this year, thank God, for two records that I made, here’s the deal: if you’re the first and you’re original you…the copies, as there get to be two, three, four, five, six, seven of them, will never be as well. I mean, it just never really quite works to me. That’s just to me. If I were doing a show, I definitely wouldn’t have three judges and have an English guy and have it be just like "Idol." I just don’t know. It just tells me that I guess a lot of networks don’t have a lot of originality.
Reporter: What are you going to be doing Grammy night?
Randy: I’m going to be praying and hoping that the song that I did with Sam Moore and the late, great Billy Preston, and Eric Clapton, and Zucchero wins. I’m also going to be praying that the song I did with Van Hunt, Josh Stone, and Josh Legend wins.
Reporter: And you’re going to vote for yourself, right?
RJ: And I’m voting for myself, man.
Reporter: Of all of the people who have been on the show, winners or not, do you have a favorite?
RJ: I think what comes to mind really quickly is my two favorites probably hands down are Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia.
Reporter: Are you in touch with either one of them?
RJ: I see Kelly from time to time and I see Fantasia from time to time. She sang a duet on the Sam Moore album that I produced about six months ago. Yes, I see them quite often. I see all of them quite often. Those two girls’ voices are just amazing and I’m really pleased and happy what’s happened with Jennifer Hudson and how she’s kept her career and her life going and how she’s blossoming now. I think it’s great.
Reporter: If you could have been in charge, rather than the voting audience, is there any winner you would have changed?
RJ: No. I think the public has gotten it right every time. I believe in America.
Reporter: There were lots of records that came out of last season, and now Paris Bennett debuted her first single off her new record last week on Twin Cities Radio. I was just wondering if you’ve heard her record or what do you think of her future and the rest of all of the records that came out of last season.
RJ: I think that she’s got a bright future. I mean, Paris was a very talented girl on the show. I think she just needed a little bit more seasoning, just a little bit more experience for me. I haven’t heard the record. I wish her well. I think she’s definitely got a bright shot at a great future. I’ve heard some of the records. I haven’t heard all of them. I think Chris Daughtry made a really good record. I like Ruben’s single, the song "Change Me" I thought was good. I heard a little bit of Taylor’s record. I think I heard the single on some TV show. I thought that was good. Whether these records will become huge for them, it goes back to how great the songs are. I’m not sure I heard songs that were going to propel them into some great sales stratosphere, which is the measure in the record industry if something is great or not.
Reporter: Whose record do you think has been the best so far?
RJ: Listen, all you’ve got to do is you can look at the past idols and you can tell who’s done the best. Kelly Clarkson’s done the best, hands down. I mean her last record sold ten million copies. What that says to me is that she hit her public square on the bulls-eye, so people believed her. They loved the songs. She had great songs. I think that song "Breakaway" is a career record. I think "Breakaway" is the best song ever recorded by any idol to date on any record. To date. That song is a career record. That song is a true copyright in the words of Clive Davis, who is always telling me about copyrights. There are very few copyrights and that song is a real copyright. Kelly has definitely done her thing.
Reporter: Why do you think (the bad singers) are willing to set themselves up in such a way? I mean, on national television and in front of the three of you. I mean, it doesn’t get much more scrutiny than that.
RJ: I’ll tell you, I think William Hung has helped a lot of people. Really. I mean, listen, the guy made a career out of being just absolutely one of the worst. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how. It’s amazing to me. I don’t know. I wouldn’t show up if I didn’t think that I had the talent, but...
Reporter: But what that must do to your ego.
RJ: (It must sound) different in their heads. They’re hearing something different in their heads, I’m convinced. I...dude.
Reporter: Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Richard: There’s a story in AdAge today talking about Fremantle and expanding the marketing of "American Idol," perhaps having a theme park ride and candy bars and ice cream.
RJ: I like that, like the Wonka Bar.
Richard: That’s right. The Randy Bar.
Richard: I mean, how much of this stuff do you think you can do? Do you ever get worried that there’s a point where it’s too much that it takes away from the show?
RJ: No. I mean, listen, I think "Idol" is definitely a huge brand. I think that I can see people are trying to leverage the brand. We don’t have anything to do with that, but I don’t think so. I think "Idol" is a show about talent finding, so I think as long as we find great talent, all of those things will sustain themselves.
Richard: So you’re a supporter of the "Idol" perfume?
RJ: No. I have my own perfume I’m going to put out, and I think Simon’s got one coming out called The Stinker.
Richard: What’s yours called?
RJ: The Love Potion.
Reporter: Between Simon Cowell being a go-for-the-jugular type of judge and Paula being a let-them-down-easy judge, where do you think you fit in?
RJ: I will stand that I am definitely the voice of reason.
Reporter: Randy, getting back to Elliott (Yamin), he hasn’t landed a recording contract yet. I wonder how that’s going to affect his career from this point on. Is that essential? What happens next?
RJ: Well, that’s what I was saying earlier. You look at what’s happened to Jennifer Hudson. I mean, she just landed a record deal, right? This was two seasons or three seasons ago or something. I think it’s about finding the right home and the people that really believe in you and that really want to guide your career. I think Elliott is going to be all right.
Reporter: Another question: Stepping back and looking at the whole phenomenon of "American Idol," did ever in your mind, when you signed on to do this show when nobody ever heard of it or knew what it was, could you ever have visualized that this would have happened, that it would become what it is today?
"If you come dressed as a tin man, I'm going to go, 'You're not a singer.'"RJ: No, I don’t think any of us really did. I mean, I certainly did not. I mean, I had no idea. I went into it kind of blind as a bat. I went into it saying, "Let’s see what happens." I knew that the record industry was in the toilet. I knew the record industry needed something different and having just come out of it, being in it for 15 years in the A&R departments, I knew that there needed to be another, different kind of talent search. But we’re truly happy and unbelievably blessed and really, really lucky to have such success.
Reporter: How do you keep it interesting for you after doing it now going into the sixth season? How do you not get bored with seeing so many of the same types of singers over and over again? What keeps it interesting for you?
RJ: I think singers are singers are singers. I think I’ve been doing it all of my life. I think it’s always interesting to me and I’m always trying to find something that’s unique and different and great out there, so the quest never ends for us because we’re always hopeful that this season we’re finding the next Sinatra or the next huge whatever. We’re always curious and interested. Do you know what I mean?
Reporter: Do you have in your mind somebody that got away, that just was voted off to soon and you haven’t heard from?
RJ: I think a lot of people get voted off a little soon, but I think sometimes during the course of the season, especially when it gets down to the top seven or six people, I think America gets a little confused at times. I think when someone goes off every week, those votes are going to go somewhere, so you never know where they’re going to go, exactly. I think somebody falls in the clutches there sometimes, but I think, as I said to someone earlier, America has gotten it right every year. I think the right person has won every time.
Reporter: How are all of the judges getting along this season? How are you guys doing?
RJ: Fantastically, interestingly well.
Reporter: You and Paula, you and Simon, everyone good?
RJ: Yes. Listen, it’s always interesting because we don’t see each other for a while, and then we get back together and do the show. It’s always a little bit of a readjusting period and we go a little crazy on each other sometimes, but we each call each other crazy four or five times. That’s okay. It’s brothers and sisters. Come on.
Moderator: Thank you. Do you have any final remarks, Mr. Jackson?
RJ: I love America. James Brown was definitely the King of Soul.