American Idol‘s former judge and new in-house mentor Randy Jackson said he will “absolutely” try to dissuade Season 13 contestants from tackling done-to-death songs when the live performance shows begin next week — especially if said ditties have been covered in memorable fashion by prior standouts.
In those instances, “you can’t help but get that comparison from the audience [to previous versions],” Jackson explained during a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “And you always want to try to come off a little unique and a little different [with regard to song choice] — unless you have a really different twist on that song.”
On the same note, Jackson added that he “loves” the kind of unique arrangements championed by former contestants such as Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, David Cook and Candice Glover, “and I want more of that. We just had an an intense workshop with [the Season 13 Top 30], and I talked about that. For instance, if you want to do ‘Hallelujah,’ do you have a different version of it? What it does for the judges and for the public, it lets them know the real range of [a contestant's] talent. If they can take something and move it around, make it really creative, you go, ‘Wow! I didn’t know your talent was that deep!'”
Of course, Jackson continued, there’s always the debate about how far to go with an arrangement — and how to prevent it from becoming “too unique.”
The Idol Institution Sometimes Known as “The Dawg” noted that for years, he’s wanted the show to offer a contestant boot camp prior to the live shows — and he’s hoping this year’s inaugural attempt will be the first of many to come. He enlisted Season 8’s Lambert and Season 5’s Chris Daughtry to help run the workshop because “they were actually in the trenches as people we were judging, so they could [give advice] it from a completely different side.”
The workshop, added Jackson, is just the first of many differences you’ll see between himself and previous Idol mentor, record exec Jimmy Iovine, who held the role in Seasons 10-12. “I really want to be more hands-on and nurturing,” Jackson said, noting he’s likely to tackle everything from song choice and arrangement to clothing, movement and performance.
Ultimately, Jackson said, the wisdom he hopes to impart will echo what he and other past judges have been saying for years. “If you really pull back and listen when the judges speak, they’re trying to give insight about what to do and where to go,” he argued. “‘That’s the wrong song for you or the wrong key.’ ‘Stop singing so many runs.’ ‘Work on your vibrato.'”
The problem is, Jackson added, that when a contestant is on stage and getting critiqued, “You have cameras in your face, you have 500 people in the audience, you have all the chatter from social media, you have friends and family and millions of people watching on TV.” With all of the distractions that come with being on stage, Jackson added that he wonders how much of the feedback contestants actually retain. “Twenty percent? Thirty percent?”
Jackson teased that long-time viewers should expect “a little bit of a twist” on the oft-criticized (and frequently dated) theme weeks. “They’re not as narrow as they used to be,” he said.
Jackson’s role on the show may be different this season; his take on the current crop of contestants, however, sounds very familiar. “The edge seems to lean in the girls’ favor, but the boys could come up and surprise everyone,” he predicted. “It’s a very young pool for the most part.”
Do Jackson’s remarks make you optimistic about his upcoming mentoring stint — or do you wish Iovine (or someone else) had scored the job? Sound off in the comments!