Interview with Kara DioGuardi from American Idol

Recently, I got the chance to interview Kara DioGuardi from American Idol. If you are unaware, or live under a rock, she is a judge on the show. Kara was also very sweet to talk to and had a lot of great insight. So please enjoy the interview.

The first question was about Ellen DeGeneres and her ability to fit in. The transcript didn’t include the question. Here is her answer.

Kara- I guess what I’m saying is that when I was sitting next to her, I felt she had a really good handle on whether a contestant had potential, whether they had a star quality. She knew if something was off in the vocals or in their performance, and I thought she delivered the message with kindness, but also had criticism in there.

Check out the rest after the jump!

Is there an Adam Lambert effect this year? Are there more really unique performers that you’ve seen?

Kara-I would like to say, and I’ve only been on the show two years, but I think that people were interpreting songs from the get-go in audition week. They weren’t just singing them the way they were sung by the people who originally recorded them. They were kind of taking some risks, and I like that, and maybe that is because of Adam, but that’s definitely a sign of good artists when they do something unique and different with material.

So far this year we’ve had a bunch of memorable songs that have come through. Obviously, Pants on the Ground was kind of a big hit already, but last night we had someone singing a version of Straight Up and then someone also sang a version of your song, but can you speak a little bit about how you guys reacted to hearing those versions and if there are any other surprises in store.

Kara- First off, tonight, I would be the last person to know what’s going to be [broadcast]. I have no idea. I see it when you see it, which is kind of fun. I also feel at times like a viewer as much as a participant because I don’t know what’s coming up.
In terms of that girl singing, Terrified, I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe it. It’s not a song that was released as a single. It’s something I co-wrote with an artist I signed to Warner Brothers, Jason Reeves, and it was a very special song for both of us. I put it up on my site I think last year. There was no music, there’s no way she could find the sheet music, so she went and she learned it on her own which I thought was pretty impressive to want to sit and watch that YouTube video over and over to learn it, and I think she did a really good job and a nice interpretation of it. I think she showed that she has a great range and sensitivity when she sings. I was pretty impressed by her, and the Straight Up was genius.

[Note from Me: I loved that version of Straight Up. It was sung by Andrew Garcia, and he was an early favorite of mine.]

I wanted to ask what your thoughts were on the rumor that Howard Stern possibly joining Idol next year. Do you think he’ll make a good judge?

Kara-Right now that’s a rumor, and I don’t really know if I can even speak on it. I don’t think he has musical background or any kind of music anything, and I think that if you’re going to replace Simon, you have to have that background. You have to be somebody who knows about signing great artists and being a part of their career from the very beginning to the very end like he’s done with people like Leona Lewis who he spotted early on and nurtured and turned … into …. I think that’s probably a precursor for whoever takes that position if they’re not a big artist who’s been through it themselves.

I have a very, very important question to begin with. What’s up with the vitamin water cups replacing the Coca-Cola cups? Everyone’s talking about it.

Kara- I know. I think they own VitaWater. I’m assuming that. I don’t think we slipped another brand in their place, so I think they own it.

Was it just like you guys got to the desk, and they were suddenly there and you didn’t even ….

Kara- Yes, they were kind of colorful, different.

Can you also just speak a little bit about, there have been rumors of sort of … tension between Ellen and Simon. Can you speak at all about that? Is there any validity to those rumors?

Kara-I think you have to take any rumor you hear about American Idol with a grain of salt. They’re usually not true.
Last year it was Kara and Paula fighting, hate each other. Kara sits in the corner. These things are just ridiculous. We’re all there to do one thing, and that’s to find the greatest contestant, the greatest American Idoll winner that we can find, and that’s what the focus is, and I know Ellen and Simon both take that seriously.

[Note from Me: I figure that whatever we see is what the producers want us to see, so if they want us to think that Simon and Ellen hate each other, we will. I’m going to ask Simon when I interview him later this week.]

What do you see as the biggest mistake contestants make during Hollywood Week?

Kara-The biggest mistake they make during Hollywood Week, it’s usually, if I were to look at this year, it’s definitely song choice. It’s that they take on something that’s way too big for them, or they go through the audition rounds and we praise them and say how great they are, and then they decide to completely change when they get to Hollywood Week. There was one contestant in particular who’s kind of a country singer that did that, and I was very disappointed because I had real hopes for him. He decided to do something completely on the opposite of what he should’ve been doing, so that’s usually the thing that kills them the most, that and the fact that they stand on that stage, and they can’t fill it up. They can’t perform. They can’t project. Those are the two things usually.

It seemed like every judge on the panel has a role, and with Paula gone, how do you think the roles have changed?

Kara-Paula was very nurturing, and I think, at least for me during the audition rounds, I try to give kids the benefit of the doubt and try to give them another shot when they had some modicum of talent. In the beginning phases, you kind of just got to say can they hold a tune? Can they sing? Or else we’re not going to have any contestants. Remember, we have to have I think it’s 170. If you judge them the way you would during the final rounds of the competition, we’re not going to have any kids because there is that learning curve. There is that growth that goes on throughout the competition. At least for me I felt I was a bit more supportive in the beginning rounds than maybe I would’ve been in the previous year.

My one question for you is how do you think Ellen will or has changed the dynamic of the judging panel this season?

Kara-I think the dynamic is something that grows over time. To kind of speak about right now would be problematic because, again, we’ve only had one week under our belt. When I speak about the dynamic, I spent five days with her for many, many hours. What you’re seeing is an edited down version of what happened, and there are specific reasons why the producers put certain scenes in and certain scenes aren’t put in. I think the dynamic will develop over the season. I think that’s what’s going to make it such an exciting season that it’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m just very excited to see it through and find a great winner.

A lot of the producers, and Randy Jackson in particular, have been saying things like they would really like to see a girl win this year, and we’ve certainly seen a lot of girls with wonderful talent sort of front and center in the edits so far. Do you have a preference one way or another?

Kara-I would love to see a girl win. I think that this year, or especially what’s going on in music currently, it’s the women’s movement. You’ve got Taylor Swift. You’ve got Beyonce. You’ve get Kesha. You’ve got Katy Perry. You have Lady Gaga. You have these very unique women at the forefront of the music industry that all have their own voices, that all have their own styles, and I think that just looking at the pool of talent we have this year, it’s similar to that. They’re unique. They’re different. They have a voice, but I also do think that the men are very good, the ones that we do have. They may not be … different as the women, but they’re solid singers. I do think it’s a lot easier to break women than men, actually, in terms of their records once the show is done.

How are you doing this season?

Kara-I’m good. It’s hard these calls because you don’t want to reveal too much, and you feel already a real, it is almost a passion for a bunch of these contestants, and you just want to make sure that when you’re talking about the shows you don’t say anything that would hurt another contestant or keeping them from going where they need to go. You’ve just got to be careful. That’s why I’m a little guarded about talking about the contestants because I want to give them all a fair shot.

Do you feel more comfortable this season?

Kara- Yes, definitely. That was very scary to go from behind to the scenes to in front of 30 million people. I think that people thought I was very serious last year, like I didn’t maybe have a sense of humor. I feel like I do, that actually I’m more of a goofball than probably anybody on that panel.

That’s it for the interview, we only had a short time. She was lovely to speak with, although very guarded because she was worried about giving away secrets. Don’t miss an all new episode of American Idol on Tuesday, at 8 pm on FOX, that is if you can tear yourself away from the Olympic coverage.

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