Along with the official announcement that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler would be the new “American Idol” judges, the powers-that-be confirmed today that Interscope/Geffen/A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine would be the “in-house mentor.”
What does this mean? First off, a little background on Iovine. Iovine began his career as an engineer on such albums as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” He then progressed to producing artists like Stevie Nicks, U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and other rockers. As head of Interscope/Geffen/A&M, he’s overseen the careers of artists like Eminem, Pussycat Dolls, Lady Gaga, No Doubt and many more. Although Interscope, like all labels, has gone through its tough periods, there have been times under Iovine’s watch in the ‘90s and early ‘2000s, when Interscope was seen as the gold standard among labels--for several years running. The Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga’s success has helped usher in a new pop age for the record company, but it's not on a hot streak right now as it has been sometimes in the past.
There is no doubt that, given his production background and his label expertise, Iovine is uniquely poised to advise the contestants from both an artistic and commercial perspective. Also by eliminating, for the most part, the guest mentor, “American Idol” gets rid of what was one of the most awkward parts of the show: an artist like Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett or Neil Sedaka would come on as guest mentor and the poor contestants, none of whom were born when these acts were having hits, would have to act as if they were in the presence of one of their musical heroes. It was disingenuous and stunk, quite frankly.
Iovine and his baseball cap (as you’ll see, he’s never without it), keep a relatively low profile in the music industry in that you don’t see him out and about that much like you do other executives, but he’s certainly not adverse to raising his own profile a little. Plus, he’s got a new boss (Lucian Grange) to impress. Pussycat Dolls and a few other acts aside, manufactured pop princes and princesses have not really been what Iovine is known for, so it will be interesting to see him dealing with singers who, by and large, are not self-contained acts.
At the same time, Interscope/Geffen/A&M’s parent company, Universal Music Group, has taken over Sony’s deal with “American Idol” to sign and distribute albums from contestants starting with Season 10. Therefore, Iovine is getting early hands-on experience with singers, at least two of whom will end up on his label each season.
Iovine says he’ll bring in top producers like Timbaland to work with the contestants as well. Again, it’s a way for Interscope to do early reconnaissance on whom they want to sign under the guise of trying to hip up the show and give viewers a little more of an idea of how the sausage is made. In the end though, no matter what they do, it’s still a glorified karaoke contest.
It’s unclear how often we’ll see the behind-the-scenes work Iovine and friends are doing on the show and what kind of “artist development” they’re really offering as opposed to just coaching the kids to take the test, i.e., teaching them tricks that will help them get votes as opposed to develop their own voice.
We’ll be watching this season and give an update after we see what Iovine brings to the party.
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