Feb 28 2013

'American Idol' Judges on Saying 'No' to Contestants

Between rehearsals, elimination shows, photo shoots, make-up and hair sessions and media interviews, American Idol judges Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey all have schedules that keep them going every waking hour, as does host Ryan Seacrest. But all of them took time to have a backstage conversation Tuesday night with The Hollywood Reporter at the Love Theatre inside the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, home to the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show Love and currently a temporary home to six Idol broadcasts over a three-week period, concluding next week.

Most of the conversations centered around the judges and host’s experience of the Fox-TV series’ 12th season. Here’s how the backstage talks went:

THR: Every artist has had to hear the word “no” at some point in their career. I’m sure you all have. So how does it feel to have to say “no” to some of these contestants?

Urban: Everybody takes the experience differently. It depends on so many factors – what kind of families we were in, the kind of friends we hang around with, the age we’re at, the amount of years we’ve been doing it, the amount of confidence we have in ourselves. Sometimes people tell us “no” and we have to make the decision ourselves whether we think they’re completely wrong and I’m going to ignore them, or, they’re actually right and I need to take that advice.

I heard plenty of nos. I’ve gotten a lot of fuel from the nos. The nos have given me more fire in my life then the yeses have. I try to remember that when we have to give nos to people.

Minaj: I definitely do not like saying no. If it were up to me, I’d give my critique but not decide who’s going home. So I’m happy about the live shows in L.A. I don’t want to crush anyone’s dream. At times when I’ve heard “no” it made me better, so I don’t want to lie to the contestants.

THR: You must have had a picture in your head about what being a judge on Idol would be like. How does that image compare with the real thing?

Carey: I didn’t realize how many truly talented people there would be, both the guys and the girls, and I really have gotten attached to certain people. To have to let them go is sometimes very hard for me.

I have my producer hat on sometimes and [think] this girl could immediately go and get a deal and have a chart-topping record. And then sometimes this person needs some work but they’re an incredible singer that I would look up to and I want to go to their show.

Minaj: I pictured it being a little scarier then it is. I didn’t expect it to be this much fun. I didn’t expect to be able to speak off the top of my head about people I never met before a day in my life and be spontaneous commenting on their performances. It’s definitely surprised me – for the better.

THR: Keith, did your experience on The Voice in Australia help prepare you to be a judge on Idol?

Urban: We don’t get to mentor the contestants as such on this show so I try to incorporate that in my critiquing of their performances because all of us want to help them. We’re not there to make them feel bad or embarrass them but try to give them some specific ways they can get to where they’re trying to get to. A lot of the time, as artists, we’ve got these bad habits or there are just little things that we’re doing that we need to get rid of and we don’t have the people around us who either know or are not willing to tell us or don’t know how to tell us.

THR: Randy, you and Ryan are the constants on this show. Do you feel that way? And can you believe that this is already season 12?

Jackson: Yeah, I feel that a bit. I am shocked that this is season 12 of American Idol. Shocked! I’m happy about it. We’re so blessed. It’s still the best show of its kind.

THR: Is the new lineup of judges working out?

Jackson: I think this is a great panel, we’ve gelled together well. What’s always the most important thing is learning to agree to disagree because I find panels very boring when we all agree and say the same things. Sometimes we do see things the same way. And it’s OK to get booed. You’ve got to call it the way you see it. If you dish it out, you’re going to get it back.

Mariah is amazing, one of the best vocalists of our time. No one will ever sell 200 million records again. I don’t care who you name, they ain’t doing it. You could put five or six of them together, the biggest artists today, they still won’t sell two hundred million copies together. She achieved a feat that is amazing, being that songwriter and amazing talent. Then you have Nicki. Nicki’s a very different, outspoken, smart girl as well, an artist in her own right. Keith is very knowledgeable. I don’t think there’s anything about the music business this panel doesn’t know everything about.

Seacrest: This is the ultimate ensemble. We’re working with artists who are so successful individually and they are used to doing their own thing. We never know exactly how it’s going to come together. But every week it seems like we’re having more and more fun.

THR: A few months ago a Fox executive said American Idol could run 15 or 17 years.

Seacrest: It wouldn’t surprise me. You look at that kind of an audience in this day and age, I don’t know that there’s any reason to stop.

THR: But you couldn’t have imagined back in season one that we’d be sitting here backstage talking about season 12.

Seacrest: Never. Back then I was just excited we got a season two.

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