"American Idol" has a problem. No, it's not the fact that it's getting increasingly hard for a woman to win on the show. It's the good kind of problem, one where recently booted contestant Pia Toscano is getting the kind of media attention — and high-profile bookings — that are usually reserved for the show's winner. Which is why in a call with reporters on Wednesday (April 20), "Idol" Executive Producer Ken Warwick suggested that in a break with the past, it's not out of the question that we will see music from Toscano well before the eventual season 10 champion releases his or her debut in November. He also revealed that while he won't be tweaking the formula this year, it's possible there could be more big changes in store for "Idol" in the future, including taking a cue from ratings rival "Dancing With the Stars."
"That's the nature of the business," Warwick said of the desire to strike while the iron is hot. "If we've got a rising star that the record companies and ['Idol' parent company] CKX think are marketable now, they will try to get records out." Warwick pledged that under the tutelage of record-industry veteran and season 10 mentor Jimmy Iovine, the rule this year is to make a star out of the singers no matter when they leave the competition.
And while he doesn't know what Iovine's plans are for Toscano at the moment, he said if he were a record honcho instead of TV producer, he'd want to get some music out while the buzz on Toscano is still strong. "It used to be in the old days, that was a concern of ours," he said of cannibalizing the buzz on the eventual winner by releasing music from other finalists earlier on. "As time's gone on, we realized what we're seeing so often is that the big star is not the winner, but from the top five or top 10, so it's unfair to hold someone back so we can promote someone else."
With so much talk about how online voting has continued the trend toward young-girl "Idol" watchers pushing male singers to the top while female ones get booted early, Warwick said producers will have a "long discussion" about that situation after this season and see if any tweaks need to be made to correct that trend.
Among the potential changes is taking a page from the "DWTS" book and letting judges have a vote alongside the audience. "We are going to have discussion about how we can keep it fair," he said, adding later about the possibility of a judge's vote, "That's just one of the ideas ... solutions on the table. There are a number."
For this season, though, the current system will remain in place. "If people want to vote for kids, then I'm certainly not going to start fiddling with the votes or doing anything that's untoward," he said, adding to the chorus of laments about Toscano's early exit. "Maybe change the voting system slightly next year. Maybe we limit the amount of SMS votes or online votes."
Warwick also responded to the upcoming competition from "The Voice" and ex-"Idol" judge Simon Cowell's fall launch of the American version of "X Factor" by noting that there are a slew of shows with three-judge panels and he can't be bothered to worry about the other shows on the horizon. "I'm not worried. I'm sure the premiere of one will dent us a little bit. ... I'm not about to change anything radically to try and keep up with something I haven't seen yet and hasn't been proven."
With a lackluster track record of breaking male stars, Warwick said his job is to make the show, and then, hopefully at the end of it, hand the record company a singer with a 20 million- to 30 million-person following. "What they do from then on has absolutely nothing to do with me," he said.
But have there been mistakes made in the past with the marketing or positioning of some of the male winners? Yes, Warwick said, most definitely. Has the best singer always won, no, not necessarily. "What it illustrates for me is that from the top five upwards, there's usually a star in there somewhere; it just is a question of luck, who picks them up, where they go, what song they release." So while not every "Idol" winner is a star, lots of "Idol" contestants have become stars. "It doesn't bother me this year if another guy [wins]. ... I am pretty sure that whoever comes out of this series is gonna break," he said, giving props to Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Iovine's skills at minting stars.
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