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Idol ready to strike again as "gold standard" of singing competition shows

by on January 10th 2012 at 2:20 am


Idol's Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson/Fox photo

PASADENA, Calif. -- Playful, cocky and still the heavyweight champs, the personalities and producers of American Idol flaunted it late Sunday afternoon during the ongoing Television Critics Association press tour.

"We are the original. We kind of invented this whole game that everybody is now copying," said Randy Jackson, the only judge remaining from the Fox juggernaut's inaugural season.

"Right now, everybody chases this show," agreed Mike Darnell, the pint-sized president of Fox's Alternative Entertainment division. "This is the gold standard."

Season 11 launches on Wednesday, Jan. 18th. And no one on the seven-member panel was about to concede that the likes of Fox's The X Factor or NBC's The Voice have in any way diminished viewers appetites for yet another "journey"-crammed singing competition.

X Factor was exempted from any criticism for obvious reasons. It's a Fox property whose egocentric maestro, Simon Cowell, put Idol on the map. But The Voice, which will be airing Mondays and Tuesdays, took a couple of shots to the chops. One avenue of attack opened when a questioner noted that inaugural Idol champ Kelly Clarkson had signed on to be one of The Voice's eight new musical "advisers." Is this a case of her going over to the "other side?"

"The Kelly Clarkson thing's easy," Darnell said. "I think it's a compliment to Idol that we're creating superstars and that other shows want to use those superstars in their shows. We're not hiring a lot of people from The Voice to be on our show."

Jackson and co-executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz jumped in to counter claims that The Voice is "more authentic" because clearly terrible singers are still used as Idol cannon fodder during early audition rounds.

"They cast their show," Frot-Coutaz said. "They go and find a small number of people to be on, whereas we actually hold open calls. Everybody who wants to be on the show shows up. It's very different."

Jackson then used a corkscrew: "We will definitely never rip off Star Trek like The Voice did with spinning (judges') chairs. We will not do that. We won't stoop that low."

There were low comedy moments, too, as when Jennifer Lopez was asked about fellow judge Steven Tyler being the show's most flamboyant dresser.

"I always wear Jennifer's clothes anyway," the Aerosmith frontman cracked.

"He's always asking me, 'Where did you get those pants?' " J Lo said.

"I've always wanted to get in her pants," Tyler rejoined. "And every now and then she lets me."

"Wait a minute!" J Lo mock protested.

"Whoa, time out," said Randy.

Earlier in the session, a questioner wondered how host Ryan Seacrest has become such a smoothie at "juggling all of those balls" during live editions of Idol.

"I like to juggle balls," Seacrest said to laughter, reviving Cowell's recurring intimations that he's at least ambiguously gay.

"Hang on, hang on. It's not what you think," Jackson interjected before Seacrest deadpanned, "Career. Career balls."

That last four Idol competitions have won by male competitors, with baritone country singer Scotty McCreery showing signs of life with a platinum CD after predecessors David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee Dewyze all struggled to gain traction. Over the years, the biggest post-Idol stars have all been women, with champs Clarkson and Carrie Underwood still superstars while also-rans Jennifer Hudson and Katharine McPhee (co-star of NBC's upcoming Smash) also making their marks. But it really doesn't matter which gender wins, Jackson insisted.

"This is not like some sexist kind of whatever thing," he said. "May the best talent win. If it's another boy this year that's the most talented person, that's who should win. It's not like, 'Oh my God. A girl didn't win.' "

Still, "girls" won four of the first six Idol competitions. So what's changed?

"I mean, if you look at the charts, Disney can tell a bit of a story," Jackson said. "You can look at the success of Justin Bieber. There a lot of girls who vote for boys. That's just kind of what happens."

Both Tyler and Lopez enjoyed career revivals in their first year as Idol judges. The four celebrity coaches on The Voice -- Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine -- also have seen their record sales surge. So who's the real beneficiary here?

"You have to realize we've been in the game a long time," Lopez said. "We've been working our careers for years and years and years. We have a lot more built up. These kids are just starting out. Give them a chance."

Tyler earlier got closer to the truth of what Idol can do for an aging artist. Aerosmith is working on a new CD, he said, but sales of old releases were up 260 percent last year "because of the notoriety. It brought nothing but younger kids to our music . . . Really, I can't go anywhere now. It was like that before, but I can't go anywhere now because of the show."

And that seems like a good note to end on.

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