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Kara DioGuardi: American Idol‘s New Judge
September 08, 2008 Vol. 70 No. 10
By Monica Rizzo
A Tough-Talking Songwriter Will Join Randy, Paula and Simon Next Season—But What Does Paula Think About That?
How best to scratch a seven-year itch? If you’re the producers of American Idol, you bring in Kara DioGuardi—one of the industry’s most successful songwriters. After the show suffered a ratings dip last spring, the 37-year-old Grammy-nominated DioGuardi will now join Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul on the judges’ panel. “I almost fell off the chair,” says DioGuardi of her reaction to the news. A longtime fan of the show, the New York native has written songs for former Idols Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Clay Aiken. “I’m a little nervous,” she says. “I’m not a household name. I’m putting some money into buying makeup.”
She’s also playing down a dustup with Abdul, who told an Arizona radio station of DioGuardi’s hiring: “I am concerned about the audience and their acceptance … time will tell.” Responds DioGuardi: “Anybody with the right brain would say something like that.” Abdul—who collaborated with DioGuardi on Kylie Minogue’s hit “Spinning Around” in 2000—later told PEOPLE she’s “thrilled” about DioGuardi’s arrival. “This is great for the show. It’s about time—more girl power!”
Though details are still being worked out (like what the judges’ critiquing order will be and how a tie would be handled in audition rounds), DioGuardi says Idol wannabes can count on one thing when the eighth season kicks off in January. “I’m going to be honest,” she says. “If I need to be nurturing, I will be. If I need to be hard, I will be. I’m up for the challenge.”
With Paul Chi/New York City,
Jeffrey Slonim/New York City.
Kara DioGuardi: Here Comes the New ‘Idol’ judge
What does it take to join Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell as a judge on ”American Idol”? For the songwriter taking her place on the panel this season, the keys to success are telling it like it is — and knowing ”when to shut up”
Kara DioGuardi is ensconced in the black velvet cocoon of a small home-recording studio, laying down a demo track while warmed by the glow of spice-scented candles. She’s crooning a song she co-wrote — an encapsulation of falling in love that involves shooting stars and dancing shadows — in a powerhouse pop voice that lies somewhere between Natasha Bedingfield and Sara Bareilles. Somewhere good, that is. ”She kills it every time she sings,” raves her writing partner, Jason Reeves. ”He’s one of the greatest melody writers I’ve ever worked with,” DioGuardi returns.
Sweet, right? So sweet, in fact, that we’re starting to worry for DioGuardi, a heretofore behind-the-scenes songwriter-producer who’s about to take on the most-watched, most-dissected job in pop music: When American Idol returns to Fox on Jan. 13, she’ll become a fourth judge to Randy, Paula, and Simon. It’s a job that requires a distinct dearth of sweetness, and a certain amount of, for lack of a better term, Simon Cowell-ness. ”Oh, I’m not gonna be this nice on the show,” DioGuardi assures us.
In case we weren’t convinced, she drops this rant when the subject of Idol auditions comes up: ”A lot of times people will sing a big song that they don’t have the voice for instead of bringing out the uniqueness in their tone,” she says. ”Another thing is, don’t cheese me out. It’s not a wedding band. And emote. Make me feel like you mean it. Don’t just sing the way the song was written. That was Mariah’s interpretation. Now what are you gonna do?” Okay, we’re worried again — but this time for the contestants.
That’s exactly what Idol‘s producers are counting on. Heading into season 8, they’re hoping viewers will be as rapt with how DioGuardi shakes up Idol‘s ”dawg”/”beautiful”/”dreadful” judging dynamic as they are with which singer takes the big prize. And though the show has constantly worked to stay fresh — allowing contestants to play instruments last year, for instance — DioGuardi’s new energy comes at a critical time, after last season’s ratings took an 8 percent dip from 29.8 million viewers to 27.3 million. Idol actually tried adding a fourth judge once before in season 2, with New York radio personality Angie Martinez, but she quit just a few days in, saying it was ”uncomfortable for me to tell someone else to give up on their dream.” Producers expect no such trouble with DioGuardi, who regularly evaluates new talent as a VP of A&R at Warner Bros. and co-owner of music production and publishing house ArtHouse Entertainment. She’s the kind of 38-year-old who can rock a black leather jacket with leggings and write hits for everyone from Pink to Ashlee Simpson to the Jonas Brothers. ”She’s very strong-willed, and we needed that with Simon around,” explains exec producer Ken Warwick. ”I don’t want anybody too benign on that panel. Kara tells it as it is.”
The feisty spirit that landed DioGuardi on America’s most-judged panel of judges goes back to her Italian upbringing in Scarsdale, N.Y. ”My grandfather was a guy who came through Ellis Island and started a grocery store,” she says. ”So my father had incredible balls. He had this I’m-gonna-do-whatever-I-want-to-do-and-you-can’t-stop-me thing that I got.” That drive spurred her to college at Duke, where she started out in the opera program but didn’t quite fit in with the classical crowd — so instead she went pre-law. ”I always wanted to be a trial attorney,” she says. ”I love to argue.”
After graduation in 1993, DioGuardi was living at home and fronting a garage band called Gramma Trips — ”covering songs, not writing my own” — when a friend snagged her an interview for a job as the assistant to the editor in chief and publisher at Billboard magazine, where she ended up spending five years. While mastering the business side of the music industry during her workday, DioGuardi spent her downtime learning to craft songs, which she now describes as ”the worst things I’ve ever heard in my life. My first song was called ‘Show Me Love,’ about a girl who wants the guy to open up his heart. It was like, Honey, he’s just not that into you.” Eventually, though, she pulled together a respectable demo that she gave to none other than a pre-Idol Paula Abdul in 1998 by simply walking up to the pop star in New York and dropping the name of a Billboard connection.
”I asked her if she was any good,” Abdul recalls. ”She said, ‘Yeah, I’m really good.’ And I believed her.” Luckily, the demo delivered on DioGuardi’s chutzpah: Abdul liked DioGuardi’s work so much that she flew her out to stay at her Los Angeles home for six weeks of intensive collaboration. The results: a song called ”Spinning Around” that became Kylie Minogue‘s 2000 comeback single — and a genial relationship with Abdul that both women hope will help squelch those intra-panel rivalry rumors. ”We were the best roommates,” says Abdul. Adds DioGuardi, ”We didn’t have one argument. We lived very well together — it was the strangest thing.”
The following year DioGuardi scored with Enrique Iglesias‘ multiplatinum album Escape, on which she co-wrote seven songs. The title track in particular revealed her knack for irresistible pop hooks, which led to a stunning roll on those charts published by her former employer. With 168 of her songs appearing on multiplatinum albums, you can thank (or curse) her for Simpson’s ”Pieces of Me,” Celine Dion‘s ”Taking Chances,” Gwen Stefani‘s ”Rich Girl,” Hilary Duff‘s ”Come Clean,” Christina Aguilera‘s ”Ain’t No Other Man,” and Pink’s ”Sober.” She’s also penned cuts for several products of the Idol machine, including Kelly Clarkson, David Archuleta, David Cook, and Katherine McPhee.
Industry insiders attribute DioGuardi’s prolific portfolio to her no-nonsense work ethic. ”If you’re in a jam and need something done, she’s a great closer,” says Jimmy Iovine, whose Interscope Records includes DioGuardi collaborators the Pussycat Dolls and will.i.am. ”I’d use her for anything.” Music mogul Tommy Mottola — who paired her with Dion, Marc Anthony, and Jessica Simpson, among others — agrees: ”She’s one of the best I’ve ever encountered. In pop music, where things can be sort of crap and mundane, she finds new twists lyrically, and her melodies are extraordinary.” Another plus, as far as her Idol credentials go: She’s got vocal chops. ”The truth is she can sing like there’s no tomorrow,” Warwick says. ”So whereas in the past when the kid would say, ‘Aw, you couldn’t sing any better’ and none of the judges even tried, she does, and she can.”
But the question remains: Can she hold her own as a TV star? Sure, she appeared on ABC’s 2006 Idol rip-off The One, but it was canceled after only four episodes. And crashing Randy, Paula, and Simon’s party is something else altogether. ”They’re like brothers and sisters at this point,” she says, having already wrapped the brutal preliminary auditions as well as the Hollywood round. ”And I’m like the long-lost cousin who they’re not sure they wanted to see, but now they’re like, Okay, you can stay for dinner.” She has what sounds like Randy Jackson‘s unequivocal — and ever-so-Randyesque — endorsement: ”I think people will look at me first and say, If the dawg is feeling her, then I should feel her too.”
For the record, she’ll sit between Randy and Paula. ”They tried [putting] me between her and Simon,” explains DioGuardi, ”but they kept trying to communicate and I didn’t want to be in the middle of that.” And, yes, both she and Abdul will be keeping their seats; producers insist DioGuardi isn’t being groomed as her former mentor’s replacement. ”That’s just cheeky journalistic hype,” Warwick says. Adds DioGuardi, ”Paula and I have a good vibe. I have respect for Paula. I’m not of the thinking that women should drag each other down.” Abdul says she isn’t worrying about her job security (”I was never told that she was coming in to take my place”) — and, in fact, only feels more confident with DioGuardi around: ”When I heard she was going to be the fourth judge, I thought, ha ha, hee hee, Simon has no idea I have an ally now.”
That’s a relief to DioGuardi, who says her biggest challenge will be ”being aware of when to shut up.” But could her penchant for telling it like it is end up rankling a nation of rabid Idol fans? In between singing the praises of a new love on her demo and waxing rhapsodic about writing partner Reeves, DioGuardi muses repeatedly, and without prompting, about whether America will think she’s just too darn mean. ”I know who I am, but what are people going to perceive me as?” she wonders. ”They may think my intensity and my boldness are bitchy. I hope not. I don’t think I’m bitchy. Do you think I’m bitchy?” No, but fortunately for Idol, we think she has a lot of potential.
Additional reporting by Adam B. Vary
PAULA CUDDLES UP TO KARA AS ‘IDOL’ CAST GETS TO WORK
Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul make nice yesterday.
August 27, 2008
IT was all smiles as Simon, Paula and Randy appeared for the first time together in public with the newest “Amer ican Idol” judge, Kara DioGu ardi.
As the iconic black stretch limo pulled up yesterday at Chelsea Peirs on Manhattan’s West side to begin a day of shooting audition hopefuls for the new season of “Idol,” Kara rushed out to greet them at a carefully orchestrated, curb side scene.
Paula was the first out of the car and gave the new cast member a hug that was so hearty it looked like the the two might topple over. Randy and Simon then gave her a wel coming hugs, as well.
With fans shouting and cameras clicking, Paula and Kara made it clear that they were determined to get along great and that the biggest change in the his tory of the talent show was no big deal.
“This is kismet,” Paula said, clasping Kara’s hand in a show of solidarity. “It’s about time, and it couldn’t have been a better person.”
Paula even took some credit for Kara’s new-found success – noting that the two once lived together: “I was the one that picked her off the streets of New York. I saw potential in her, and I brought her into my home and fed her.”
Touching nearly the entire time they appeared in public, the pair laughed and whispered to each other.
Because they were standing so close, at one point Kara nearly struck Paula in the face by accident.
“It’s starting already!” Randy joked.
When asked why they picked the Grammy-nominated songwriter, Randy replied: “She’s the most like us.” And how does Simon feel?
“She’s alright,” he said with a wink and a smile before slinking into the building to begin auditions for several hundred of “Idol” hopefuls.
The four are judging those singers who got past last week’s cattle call auditions at Giants stadium where an estimated 3,000 “Idol” wannabes showed up for a chance to win a spot on the show.
‘IDOL’ PANEL GETS TUNE-UP
NEW JUDGE IRKS PAULA
By DON KAPLAN and ALEX GINSBERG
“American Idol” will add top-selling, Grammy- nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi to its notorious panel of judges begin ning next year, the show announced yesterday.
“American Idol” will add top-selling, Grammy- nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi to its notorious panel of judges begin ning next year, the show announced yesterday.
“I’m gonna be a straight shooter, say it like I see it and try to help the contestants,” said DioGuardi, 37, a native of New Rochelle. “I just plan on being honest and offering constructive criticism. I’ll have my unique style.”
DioGuardi, who attended Duke University before penning tunes for the likes of Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera, joins name- dropping Randy Jackson, loopy Paula Abdul and caustic Simon “Mr. Nasty” Cowell.
Although well known in the music industry, having won BMI’s 2006 Pop Song writer of the Year award and sold more than 300 million records, DioGuardi is still a relative unknown to the average “Idol” viewer.
“When I got the call, I thought they were calling the wrong person,” DioGuardi said. “Next thing I know, I was on a plane to New York.”
The move to a four-judge panel follows other changes at “Idol.” Although still the top show in America, “Idol” has seen its ratings slip.
In recent years, contestants were permitted for the first time to play instruments on stage, and the age maximum was raised from 24 to 28.
The addition of DioGuardi raises the possibility of a 2-2 split – prompting a “Simon says” tiebreaker rule: Cowell’s vote will carry the day.
The announcement prompted the unpredictable Abdul to call in to the syndicated radio program “Johnjay and Rich in the Morning” yesterday to voice her concerns.
“We’re in our eighth season, and the producers want to try a change,” Abdul told the Phoenix-based disc jockeys. “I’m excited, but I’m concerned about the audience and their acceptance of the changes. Time will tell.”
Abdul welcomed DioGuardi, a longtime friend whose career she helped get started when the two collaborated on a Kylie Minogue song.
Abdul’s spokesman, Jeff Ballard, dismissed talk that DioGuardi’s hiring was the first step in a plan to boot Paula.
“It’s coming from people who have nothing better to do than gossip,” he said of the rumor.
The show’s producers tried to add Hot 97 radio host Angie Martinez as a fourth judge in 2002, but she left after only four days, citing her inability to dash the hopes of talent-challenged youngsters.
DioGuardi is the son of former Westchester Congressman Joseph DioGuardi, now a spokesman for the Albanian-American community.
DioGuardi said his daughter started singing seriously after he pushed her to perform, at the age of 12, at a 1983 Waldorf-Astoria fund-raiser he chaired.
“I think she’ll be excellent, because Kara has always been a very good communicator,” he said. “She’s polished.”
Additional reporting by David K. Li
NEW ‘IDOL’ JUDGE TOUGHER THAN PAULA, ‘NICER THAN SIMON’
KARA DioGuardi, the new “American Idol” judge, is going through a bit of a behind-the-scenes audition herself.
On TV’s biggest stage, no less.
After sitting through “Idol” auditions in New York, Jacksonville, Louisville and San Francisco, she’s finding her footing, she says.
And she says her style continues to evolve as she critiques prospective contestants.
“I just know I’m getting my groove, loosening up and forgetting about the big elephant in the room,” she says about the enormity of “Idol” and of keeping pace with Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.
“The first few [audition] cities I was like, ‘Oh my God, the camera is on me’ – it was a little strange,” she says. “But I’m starting to let my true self come out. You forget about the camera and start being you.
“And that’s been fun for me.”
So how does the “real” DioGuardi fit into the pre-existing “Idol” judge troika – nice (Abdul), middle-of-the-road (Jackson) or snarky (Cowell)?
“I’m one of those people who’s pretty honest and kind of say what I feel,” she says. “I think you’re going to see me be nice at times, but I’m a little more hard on the contestants.
“That’s kind of my motto: ‘All right, I’m gonna give you another chance, but you’re skating on thin ice.’
“If there’s something there, I’ll give someone a shot – and then kill ‘em during Hollywood week.”
DioGuardi, who was raised in New Rochelle, is a music business insider, but she’s virtually unknown to viewers.
Her biggest TV role, before now, was as a judge on ABC’s “The One: Making a Music Star,” an “Idol” copycat axed after two weeks in 2006.
“American Idol” is “really taking a gamble because there’s something to be said for [hiring] people who’ve been in front of the camera for long periods of time,” says DioGuardi, 37.
“I’m not famous and I’m not known – although I’ve thought of that [fame] route – it’s kind of a weird thing.
“Who calls you up and says, ‘You’re gonna be the next judge on ‘American Idol?’ “
DioGuardi is close to Abdul. “We spent weeks together at the very beginning of my career and I practically moved into her house,” she says.
But Cowell, now one of the show’s executive producers, and Jackson were little more than TV personalities to her before she was hired .
The daughter of former Westchester Rep. Joseph DioGuardi has her own music company, Arthouse Entertainment, which nurtures fellow writers, artists and producers. She works with Phoenix House and has a boyfriend she’s been dating for a little over a year.
“I have a place in Maine and basically he was the general contractor on the house next door to mine,” she says.
“I met him on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death.
“It was kind of like my mom said, ‘You’ve been dating a lot of dogs lately – I’m going to send you a present.’ ”
FOURTH JUDGE READY TO FACE ‘IDOL’ MUSIC
by: Christina Kinon
“I’m just somebody who’s really honest and gives my opinion. If I feel I need to be hard with someone in order to get that across, I will,” DioGuardi told reporters Monday. “And if I feel I need to be softer and more nurturing with the contestants, I’ll do that. It all depends on the situation.”
DioGuardi will join “Idol’s” judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul in the coming season, which begins in January. She gets her start today in New York as contestants who passed the early auditions face the big judges for the first time.
“I just know that I’m supposed to have my makeup done by 11 o’clock,” said DioGuardi, who couldn’t comment on the seating arrangements or how tie votes will be broken.
Adding DioGuardi is the latest twist in the hit singing-contest show. It comes after a season that saw some audience erosion and barbs from critics that the format had grown stale.
“We are turning the heat up on ‘Idol’ this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges’ table,” creator and executive producer Simon Fuller said in a statement.
DioGuardi is no stranger to being around budding pop stars. Her songs have been recorded by performers like Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion, Taylor Hicks, Carrie Underwood, Pink, The Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears, Jewel and Hilary Duff.
It won’t be the first time the producers have tried to add a fourth judge to what has been a very successful show. In the second season, New York radio deejay Angie Martinez was put in the mix, but soon left, saying she couldn’t be critical of singers who had a dream to hit it big.
DioGuardi, however, doesn’t see her role that way.
“I don’t think it’s criticism,” she said. “For people that are on the show, it’s a part of their journey. If they’re going to become a huge artist or not, they’re there to learn something, and no matter what, the experience is going to help them.
“Kara is going to be right in your face if she has to be,” said her dad, former GOPcongressman Joseph DioGuardi of Ossining, N.Y. “She knows how to be tough. Some of that comes from her family’s history. Her Italian grandparents immigrated to the Bronx. But she certainly knows how to be tactful, too.”
Abdul told Phoenix’s 104.7 KISS FM Johnjay & Rich radio show yesterday that she was excited about DioGuardi coming on board, but added: “I am concerned about the audience and acceptance. Time will tell. We’ll see.”
DioGuardi, who says she’s worked with Abdul in the past and considers her a good friend, said she understands Abdul’s concerns.
“She’s on a big, big show,” said DioGuardi. “She’s probably pondering what could and couldn’t happen.”
YO, SIMON, I CAN SING!
New judge stole show – at 12
New “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi was just 12 when she got her first taste of stardom, wowing a crowd of 1,000 with “New York, New York” at the Waldorf-Astoria.
“I told Kara that to hear strangers clap for you, that’s how you build confidence,” said her father, formerGOP congressman Joseph Dio-Guardi.
Twenty-five years later, DioGuardi needs all the confidence she can get as she goes head-to-head withSimon Cowell, Paula Abdul andRandy Jackson at the judges’ table on Fox’s hit series.
The show doesn’t return until January, but the Westchester County native is off to a rockin’ start.
A throng of screaming fans greeted the singer-songwriter outside theNew York auditions yesterday as she emerged from a Town Car, smiling and waving.
She headed straight for Monica McCabe, 22, of Long Island, who was clutching a photo of DioGuardi for her to sign.
“She was shocked that she had a fan here,” McCabe said. “She said this was her first autograph.”
DioGuardi, 37, is hardly a newcomer to the music scene, having spent two decades writing music for Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Hillary Duff, Carrie Underwood and Avril Lavigne.
Her talent and passion dates all the way to kindergarten at the Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Scarsdale.
“We’d have music teachers come in and teach the students a song at least once a week and she was very much into it,” said teacher Enis Chiavetta.
DioGuardi’s dad realized his daughter had something special in October 1983, when she belted out Frank Sinatra’s signature tune for a Columbus Day crowd at the Waldorf that included Sophia Loren.
“It was just a wonderful moment as a father to see her get up there like that,” he said. “She had a phenomenal voice.”
Born and raised in upstate Ossining, DioGuardi graduated from The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry then earned a political science degree from Duke.
She sold ads for Billboard and started a few of her own bands, including Platinum Weird with former Eurythmics mastermind Dave Stewart.
She began to pen lyrics when labels wouldn’t send her any to record and was soon turning out hits for others. She’s earned a reputation in the biz for being a smart, funny straight shooter.
“She’s one of those people who walks in a room and everyone just gravitates to her,” said Steven Vincent, a vice president at the Disney Channel, who’s worked with DioGuardi on hits such as “Camp Rock,” “Cheetah Girls 3″ and “Hannah Montana.”
News that DioGuardi is joining “American Idol” thrilled stars with whom she worked.
“She is fully qualified to share her opinion with everyone,” said former ‘NSyncer JC Chasez, who worked with DioGuardi on his upcoming solo album.
“She’ll probably stand up to some of the things that Simon says,” said “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest.
“And I think that she will actually be really honest with the contestants, which is good.”