We probably won't hear the results from this season's winner, 25-year-old rock interpreter David Cook, or runner-up David Archuleta, until December, but he presents a unique opportunity for the "Idol" brain trust. For the first time in the show's seven-year history, an "Idol" winner has a shot at launching a bona fide rock career, which would be a switch from the pop, country and R&B winners of the past. We asked a number of music industry veterans (none of whom are directly associated with the show) what they would do with the first top-two males since Ruben and Clay, if given the chance.
One person who is particularly excited about both finalists, but especially about Archuleta, is Michael Riley, senior vice president/ general manager of Radio Disney. Riley was rooting for both because, at its core, "Idol" helps raise the profile of music that's fit for kids and families.
"We've had past 'Idol' participants come into Radio Disney, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry, and we'd love to have David Archuleta come into the studio," Riley said. "We play a lot of different kinds of music, but he really fits our demographic spot-on and appeals to kids and families."
Cook fits the Radio Disney profile too, Riley added the day before the finale. And, like Clarkson, Cook also appeals to a wider audience.
Though the winner and runner-up are typically scooped up right away by 19 Entertainment and assigned to a label in the Sony BMG universe, that doesn't mean other labels and managers wouldn't love to get their hands on them, given the chance. "The best thing that could possibly happen to BMG is if Archuleta wins," said Steve Greenberg, founder of S-Curve Records (We the Kings) on the eve of the final performance show on Tuesday. Riley, the father of 6- and 10-year-old girls who are obsessed with the show, added, "It gives them a ready-made teen idol, their own Miley Cyrus or Jonas Brothers, if they do it correctly."
Given the label's ties with Nickelodeon, Greenberg said it would be easy to cross-market Archuleta on the network (which, like MTV, is owned by Viacom). While a spokesperson for 19 Entertainment would not comment for this story, Greenberg said a male teen idol is the one thing the show has not yet launched. Cook inhabits a space that is already somewhat occupied by former top-four finisher Daughtry. "Archuleta could be the biggest 'Idol' winner in years, if they market him in a teen idol direction. I would love to work with him because I would know exactly what to do."
Wendy Goldstein spent more than 20 years working as an A&R rep for a variety of major labels. She knows a thing or two about "Idol," since she said she was tapped to be one of the panelists early in the pilot stage of the ratings champ. Between his youth appeal and "sweet" voice, she sees big things for Archuleta.
"I would like to see him make a great, innovative pop record like Leona Lewis' 'Bleeding Love,' " said Goldstein, whose management company represents Underdogs member Harvey Mason Jr., the songwriter/producer of "Idol" season-six winner Jordin Sparks' hit "No Air." (Mason has already penned a song that might end up on Archuleta's first album.)
While some are salivating at the thought of minting a male Hannah Montana, don't think Cook isn't getting some people excited as well. The former bartender from Blue Springs, Missouri, succeeded in part by putting his own spin on some otherwise treacly songs (or borrowing someone else's new arrangement), as well as sticking to the kind of gritty rock songs that suit his voice.
"There is a huge demand for bands like Nickelback, and he's doing songs that people are familiar with — taking other artists' songs and putting his own spin on it so that they can be accepted by a [demographic] that normally would never care," explained Jonathan Azu, vice president of strategic music partnerships for CBS Radio, several weeks before Cook made it to the final round. "At the same time, when he becomes an artist, most musicians don't want to do covers, so he has to start integrating some of his own material into what he's trying to do."
Paul Geary, an artist manager who works with Smashing Pumpkins and Godsmack, sees several similarities between Cook and Daughtry. If Cook came asking for advice, Geary said he might suggest that the singer embrace his pop side while trying to rock.
"As I had conversations with Daughtry along the way, when he was still a contestant, I remember being asked the same question: Does he stick with 'American Idol,' and if he wins, will he be taken seriously at the rock [radio] formats?" Geary said several weeks before the final showdown. "All of these people are talented — the challenge is, you are now entering the world of commercialism, and how do you connect the dots with the consumer? 'Idol' is a pop mainstream forum and probably couldn't be any further away from the active rock audience, which is an aggressive, male-based audience. For Cook to be credible in the rock world, 'Idol' is a tough place to [come from], and he should probably join a rock group. On the flip side, top-40 radio would be a natural home for him. Those formats can embrace a pop idol."
In some ways, the strategy is more obvious for Cook, suggested Peter Katsis, a vice president at powerhouse Los Angeles talent management company the Firm, which has worked with winners Clarkson and Taylor Hicks in the past. "Archuleta has more of a Broadway-type background, so it's kind of hard to say what direction to take him in," he said. "But I could see it being easy to find David Cook the right material to make him a bit of a hipper, younger Daughtry. In a lot of ways, the path is clearest for him as a recording artist."
Goldstein agrees that the Daughtry route is the right one for Cook, but she cautioned that softening him up too much could land him in a musical no-man's land where he loses hard rock fans and is too hard for pop heads.
Unlike Greenberg and Riley, Katsis thinks Archuleta is maybe a bit too "classy" to do teen-pop material, so if he landed on the Firm's doorstep, he might push him in a more adult-contemporary direction, à la Josh Groban. "He has an amazing voice that's very powerful, but it doesn't necessarily lend itself, style-wise, to something like what Justin Timberlake is doing," he said.
What did you think of the finale? Head to YouRHere.MTV.com to upload your video reactions to Cook's big win, and check out what other "Idol" fanatics are saying!
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