From Gaga to Bono, the Peas to Mary J. Blige and beyond, Jimmy Iovine continues to be an iconic global music producer, working only with the best in the business as they continue to rise to new heights of success. So, it's no surprise that this acclaimed executive and current chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records is rocking his current role as mentor for the lucky group of aspiring stars on American Idol.
Week after week, he patiently works with each one individually, guiding them skillfully to discover their own pathways to stardom. He's tough, demanding, and most importantly, honest. Jimmy shares how he keeps it real in the land of Idol.
Now, this is your second year on the show and you do such a great job with these contestants on a weekly basis, though the last few contestants outside of Scotty haven’t done the greatest in recent times post-Idol. What tips do you have for the runner-up?
Well, you’re dealing with a very unusual situation. Usually when someone makes their first album they’re coming from really trying to figure everything out and no one knows who they are. In the day of becoming very popular on your own on the Internet, or something like American Idol, the first album you’re entering a different place than most artists in the past, so the best thing you can try to do is to get the head space to collaborate and make that first album feel like your first album, where you’ve taken the input you need and are working on it and that sort of stuff. Quite a few times what I’ve seen in the past is that it’s hard to go on TV in front of 20 million people, 25 million, whatever it is, and then go make your first album. That’s a tough trick.
We’ve celebrated your honesty during the elimination episodes and slammed the judges for constantly positive critiques. Would you ever consider being a judge?
No one has asked me, and not right now. I like working with musicians and I like the creative aspect of what I do on the show. I really enjoy that. It’s a lot of fun for me. And that would change that, so probably not.
Do you think the judges showed too much favoritism towards Joshua this year?
Joshua does great work. He really has an impressive, impressive voice and I can see why you’re sitting there getting excited about him. But they always loved Jessica and they like Phillip and they liked Hayley, and they liked Alicia. I feel they spread the love around, you know?
The mentoring sessions have been really interesting to watch and they seem to have been very helpful for the contestants, sometimes resulting in them changing the song that they’ve chosen or the approach. Can you tell me when in the week they happen and how long each session lasts?
The sessions are approximately half an hour each, or maybe a little bit more, and they happen on a Friday. But I give a lot of thought before I go in, and I’ve been doing this a long time so what I’m doing basically is what I do in my office — I talk to musicians, or when I was a record producer what I would do, and yes, it’s a contest and it’s a show, so it was all kind of squished into a show at a time. But what I was most shocked about this year is that every one of these kids were cooperative and wanted to learn and wanted to be better, and especially the final four or five, these kids really cared and really were interested in "okay, is this how it’s done." And so I really liked the kids this year a lot, quite a bit, so it made me able to do more. And I would bring my friends in that also have a lot of experience, and so if we need more time the kid leaves and comes back. Everybody’s treated equally, and that’s how it works.
You were born in Brooklyn. What area did you grow up in? And how did you get into music as a kid?
I was born on Second Place and Henry Street, down by the Battery Tunnel. When I was there it was called Red Hook, Brooklyn, and now it’s called Cobble Hill. I just liked music and at that time wanted to get out of Brooklyn, and it was either that or sports. And if you meet me or see me on TV you know sports wasn’t an option, so I got into music. I met a girl named Ellie Greenwich who was a great songwriter, and she got me a job in a recording studio cleaning up and stuff. I was able to watch and from there I went to another studio. I had three studio jobs, like custodial, help out, set things up, and then eventually this guy, Roy Sacolo, liked me and he put me in a studio and I kind of got started. I was about 19 years old.
What do you think about the possibility of JLo not returning and do you think that Idol might lose some of its star power if it loses Jennifer?
Do you know something, she’s incredible. I hope she does it again. I know nothing about this, fortunately. On this particular show it’s a decision that’s way below my pay grade. I just mentor the kids and do my thing. And Jennifer’s wonderful and funny and beautiful and talented, so I hope they keep her.
There were a lot of shocking eliminations over the course of Idol this year. Was there anyone in particular that you were really shocked to see go home early?
Well, I had it pretty early on that Joshua, Jessica, and Phillip had what it takes to be in the final three. I did not know who was going to proceed or not when Joshua got cut, but those three I always knew would be, I felt personally they would be in the final three. I’m not surprised at the final two, but if it was Joshua and someone else I wouldn’t have been surprised at that either.
This season has been full of surprises, from bringing back Jermaine Jones to saving Jessica Sanchez, Colton Dixon being eliminated, and Joshua Ledet. What do you make of this season and what do you think it means for the future of the show?
Well, I’m really pleased about, go down to the last two weeks, Phillip is a very unusual artist to get this far on American Idol, and I’m really impressed with that. Phillip’s career is going to be based on, he’s a writer and a singer/songwriter, so you don’t have the world to pick material from. He may take some help in collaborations with different things that he does, but for that secret to still be in the bag and to have him this far as a singer/songwriter, a big part of it is those songs, Dave Matthews, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, what [great] songs. So that part the audience doesn’t know yet, but I believe in him a lot and I think that he’s got crazy charisma. He’s got incredible charisma and an incredible sound, so I’m really happy about that. I think that bodes well for American Idol, that a kid like that can get this far. And I just think that there’s something about this group.
First of all, let me say one thing. The judges, what they do is so difficult, to go on the road and listen to people sing a cappella, thousands of them, I couldn’t do that, and differentiate and define one kid and not the other. What they do is really extraordinary, and that’s what I think you’re seeing on American Idol that was missing in some of the years right before that, in our process, that these judges collectively do is really extraordinary. That’s the thing I’m most impressed with.
Going back to last season and right up to this one, there are a lot of viewers who appreciate some of your candor and some of your humor as well when critiquing the contestants. Last year was a feeling out period with the introduction of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez and yourself, so what are your thoughts with those behind the judges’ table as opposed to what you do?
Here’s the thing about that. I’m a mentor, a coach, an executive producer, a producer, whatever you’re doing I’m in the creative process. I’m on their side. And then at the end of the game we get to talk about what happened. And if you’re in a playoff game and the coach comes back and says, "Well, this guy blew it; this one did great," it's just about what it is. So my responsibility is to just say what it is and help the artist, the singers, and the audience give them my take on actually what’s happening and what did happen, why that happened, or why I felt that it didn’t work or why I agreed or disagreed with the judges. It’s part of the creative process. I’m on the front of it and the back of it. And that’s my responsibility, to train the team and then let them know what happened, or how I see it anyway.