‘American Idol’ at TCA: ‘This is the show that produces stars’

From left: Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest return for the 11th season of “American Idol,” premiering Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. on Fox.

“American Idol” was first on the reality singing competition scene, and its judges and producers don’t want you — or any of those similar shows — to forget it.

“‘Idol’ is still the best TV show of its kind anywhere,” judge Randy Jackson said while promoting Season 11 at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Sunday. “We are the original. We kind of invented this whole game that everybody is now copying.”

Jackson was referring in large part to “The X Factor,” the vocal competition former “Idol” judge Simon Cowell brought to Fox (and then enlisted fellow “Idol” alum Paula Abdul to join him). Before its premiere, Cowell boasted that “The X Factor” would topple “Idol” from its perch as the most-watched series in America. In reality, it drew about half the audience of “Idol.”

Why the lopsided success? “This is the show that produces the stars,” says “Idol” executive producer Ken Warwick. “There’s no other series … over the years that has produced anything like the number of stars that we have. There’s no Kelly Clarksons, Carrie Underwoods, Jennifer Hudsons.”

Warwick took a further jab at “The X Factor” by saying one winner of the British version, Leona Lewis, was only a “one and a half hit star for 10 minutes.” Jackson saved even harsher words for the contestants of “The Voice,” which proved to be a hit for NBC over the summer, by calling them “second chance people” since the 2011 winner, Javier Colon, had a failed contract with Capitol Records before appearing on the contest. Adding to the forced animosity, Jackson made this comparison: “We will definitely never ever rip off ‘Star Trek’ like ‘The Voice’ did with spinning chairs. We won’t do that,” he said.

But not everyone associated with “Idol” views the crowded field of singing competitions as a bad thing. “It’s a more competitive marketplace, but in the end competition is good,” said “Idol” executive producer Cecile Frot Coutaz. “It means you have to raise your game. You have to be better.” In that spirit, “Idol” will change the format for this season, but only slightly, featuring performance challenges that include a song from the late 1950s and a round stripping songs down to one voice, one instrument.

That still might not be enough for the show to sustain its unbeatable track record. “I expect ‘Idol’ will be down [in ratings] this season,” Kevin Reilly, Fox President of Entertainment, said, “but mostly due to the fact it’s going to be an 11 year old show. It’s going to be a natural life cycle for that show.”

While it remains on the air, however, everyone involved with “Idol” intends to maintain “the gold standard,” as Mike Darnell, Fox’s President of Alternative Entertainment, called it. “Right now everybody chases this show. And we don’t concern ourselves with that,” he said. “We just have to do the best show we can.”


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