A CONVERSATION BETWEEN RYAN, JIMMY AND NIGEL, REGARDING POTENTIAL WINNERS
May 11, Friday 5:00 AM
Nigel and Ryan walk into Jimmy Iovine's Interscope office to discuss who should be the winner of the show.
*Jimmy: Alright, so we have an important issue to discuss. Who the hell I'm going to have to market as the winner of this show. Nigel, can you tell who's been leading the votes all this time?
*Nigel: Well, Phillip Phillips has led the vote for the past five weeks, even though we've deliberately attempted to sabotage him at the top five and top four. That boy has some staying power, and unfortunately we know it's strictly due to the housewives. That's how we got our four past winners.
*Jimmy: Yeah Nigel, I was aware your show had that problem. What's your opinion on him as a singer?
*Nigel: "Singer?" Don't play that game on me, he's not a singer. He's a song twister, reinterpreting songs pretty well to fit into his limited range. Can you name any contemporary folk who sell records today that are similar to Phillip, Jimmy?
*Jimmy: Well, I know Bob Seger seems quite similar. But he's the 1970s. I wasn't a part of this wave, but over here at Interscope we do have Lifehouse. We weren't actively involved in the post-grunge movement when it was in its peak in the early to mid 2000s, but you know, no one's going to say that Chad Kroeger or Rob Thomas had the largest range. Unfortunately, both are struggling right now and have given way to the pop starlets on the charts....
*Nigel: Ryan, have you got an opinion on this?
*Ryan: Jimmy's exactly right. As you all know, I do the AT40 charts, where we chart top 40 music. The only guy we can truly consider a white guy with guitar on the charts is Gavin DeGraw--and even then, he's doing pop rock. Maroon 5 sold out by teaming up with a bunch of hip hop types like Rihanna and Wiz Khalifa. Phil--
*Nigel: Right, Phil has that raspy, gravelly voice that doesn't lend itself to crossover music, from what I find.
*Ryan: Exactly. The closest I can box Phil in to his contemporary peers is Nickelback, or Seether, or Staind, or some of that post grunge stuff that's no longer on AT40. Jimmy and Nigel, the question you guys seriously have to ask yourselves is this: can you see this guy on the charts next to his contemporary peers, like Rihanna, LMFAO, Calvin Harris, Bieber--? Can you hear me saying, with the #1 song in America, this is Phillip Phillips', ...?
*Jimmy: Haha. Seriously laughable. I can't see this guy on those charts at all. And as you know, we're totally not in the business of adult contemporary music. That market's dried up even more than a prune basking in the desert sun. Eric Hutchinson, Mat Kearney--only niche alt rock fans know them, and John Mayer and Nickelback, despite their longevity, have already been relegated to adult contemporary. And that, Nigel, is the problem. Is this the guy who we want to represent Interscope as this year's winner?
*Nigel: That's the million dollar question.
*Jimmy: Don't forget, we're largely in the business of hip hop. We shipped Scotty and Lauren--two of your contestants I dislike sheerly because of the genre--into Mercury Nashville, so I don't have to deal with them. But, we all know that country is a moneymaker. The South buys anything with a twang. We're here to make a profit. So despite my eminent dislike of that stuff, they're making a profit, so I'm happy with it. Now with alternative rock--this is a breed that literally can't sustain itself on its own. I'm even having trouble marketing Lifehouse recently, and everyone loves Jason Wade. And I've been noticing that alternative rocker hits have blended with hip hop types to generate success--Fueled By Ramen seems to be at the forefront of that. Look at Cobra Starship with Sabi. Fun feat Janelle Monae? That kind of stuff is in the hots right now.
*Nigel: Jimmy, you make great arguments about Phillip. He'll be a tough one to figure out. I'd say, with the Idol songs he's singing, he's virtually impossible to market. We've dumbed him down into some Bob Seger/Jonny Lang/indie musician, but our audience is lapping it up, because they vote for anyone who's cute, humble and plays a guitar. But at the same time, we have to encourage him to keep singing at his middling state--he's getting the votes, and if past seasons were any indication, he's drawing the majority of our viewers. If we just prematurely eliminate him, half our viewers might leave. We have this conundrum every season, and we're at the top three--I think we're at the point of no return. As I said, we've tried sabotaging him, but seriously he's never at the bottom three, so at this point we can't just sabotage him otherwise there will be a major backlash against us which might propel him to win the show.
*Ryan: So we're screwed then. We can't rig the votes, can we? I mean, as I said, the guy is completely unmarketable. He's also going to be our biggest problem. Not that I care, for when I do the charts during the summer and he releases his album, I'm just not going to say his name when I do the top 40 countdown.
*Jimmy: Nigel, you have a big problem with your show: and that problem is with how obvious your show has become. When casual viewers can watch the auditions and simply pick out the white guy with the guitar as the obvious winner from the show from the get-go, and that comes into fruition even though he has been the worst on some nights, then people are going to tune out. You've got to make that trade-off with your housewife viewers and the casual viewers.
*Nigel: The Fox execs tell me the same thing. They'd very well prefer the 18-54 demographic. We've been hitting the 60-80 demographic, it appears, with all these white guys with guitars. I wanted to shred that demographic and get younger people, but that requires our show to become more hip. For some reason, we've never been able to clear hip hop songs to add to our catalog. Jimmy, you're the hip hop mafioso, but apparently you couldn't help us there.
*Jimmy: I wasn't able to do that. Another thing that's contributing is that your songs are way too old and predictable--the audience tunes out after they've heard the song for a 7th or 8th time. That's why Phillip is winning--he's choosing songs that haven't been done before, so his margin for error is larger than contestants like Jessica and Joshua.
*Nigel: Yeah, I think we have screwed ourselves over with this season. We thought Phillip was too weak early on, and I think many of the fans thought the same--we thought that he was a one-trick pony, his constipated faces would turn people off, his awkwardness without his guitar was a huge detriment, his lack of range would become annoying. But what we didn't realize was that it didn't matter: he plays guitar, and he's from the South. That is such a lethal combination. We thought of actually eliminating him with his health problems, but he always wanted to give it a go. So we just couldn't blatantly eliminate him.
*Jimmy: The biggest problem comes from the marketing perspective. It seems inevitable he's going to win. So why not pimp him? I'm really not sure if anyone nowadays would buy an album like that, other than the devout Idol watchers, but we all know that they're not a large enough audience in the mainstream. We need teens who can spread his music by word of mouth, and that doesn't happen for the alternative rock genre at all.
*Ryan: Jimmy, pimping him would only make him win all the more easier. You said it first: the guy has such a large margin of error. He can screw up and still win this. But the bigger problem is this: we've had guys like David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze win. They've all had progressively worse sales. Cook had several hits on the chart. Allen had one, then faded away--I've heard that he's tried to release some dance pop to conform to what's out there, but even then he's gaining virtually zero traction. I haven't announced his name on AT40 yet for that album. And Lee had zero hits. He was the epic flop of our season. So now PP is coming after those types, and to be honest with you, I think his voice is even worse than Lee's. Unlike those three, he's coming at a time when that sort of rock is becoming irrelevant, and he has that white guy with guitar stigma. If I were a betting man, this guy won't sell at all.
*Nigel: Here's the thing. With the Voice and X Factor, these singing shows are putting more pressure on us to maintain our audience. Yes, I screwed up by casting him, I underestimated his popularity, and at this point we can't blatantly sabotage him. So we can save face with our core audience by trying to pimp him, so we can feed into our audience's delusions that he is the right winner. Yeah, I know, we'll have our fifth straight cute, humble white guy winner, but face it, it was inevitable the moment we cast him. My bad. Then, Jimmy can pull the switcheroo once our show is over and market someone like Jessica and Joshua. Probably Jessica.
*Jimmy: Here's the thing, Nigel. I had headhunters back when we knew the top 24, and they saw Phillip Phillips covering Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled and Eminem. And then we saw Jessica's large youtube channel with her covering the gamut of pop starlets nowadays, including Rihanna, Katy Perry, and others. And looking back at this season as a whole, we dumb down Phillip into covering Bob Seger and Phil Collins...and Jessica into Etta James and Jennifer Hudson? Listen, I encouraged a ton of this, but this makes even more sad that I wasn't able to clear the hip hop songs for these people. They seemed more rooted into hip hop before they joined the Idol machine.
*Ryan: See Jimmy, there's the idea. You need to sway Phillip back into the hip hop area. I mean, we've seen Linkin Park introduce this sort of rap rock early on, and now we have Mike Posner and Kevin Rudolf. Hell, even Chris Rene back in X Factor was doing that sort of white guy with guitar doing hip hop shtick. Phillip isn't a complete natural, but the fact that he loves that music, does these pseudo-raps--makes you think that, maybe, if he's paired with a rapper, that could be interesting.
*Jimmy: Interscope prides itself in hip hop and innovation, that could work. I actually thought about that, but would there be a backlash relative to what he's done on the show? We're doing a bit of a switcheroo here on his fans.
*Nigel: Screw the fans. We're here to feed into their delusions. The show and post-show operate separately. We're forced into old music and casting guys like Phillip Phillips simply to maintain our ratings, and feed into their delusions that these guys are capable of sustaining a career. To be honest, the interns that work for me laugh and snicker every day reading mjsbigblog, who posts articles about Kris Allen, David Cook, and they see the posters wistfully hope that these guys can get radio play or sell a ton of albums. Rinse, repeat every year. I'd say do it, Jimmy. We're forced into him as a winner anyway, and you've got to do what makes you money, and what might help for his longevity in the business. As I said, we can't clear the hip hop, but just like you teamed up Haley with B.O.B., you can do the same for Phillip. He might need to latch on to someone who's really popular right now to have a chance.
*Jimmy: Yeah, it seems like the idea. So you're going to give Phillip three good songs relative to the other contestants, and then tell the judges to rehearse their script to applaud on his third song?
*Nigel: Yeah, it's the one song you chose "We've Got Tonight" by Bob Seger. We've also given him the pimp spot, so we're blatantly pimping him now. I've also scripted his Matchbox 20 performance so that the judges say it wasn't as good, so by comparison his third song becomes a true moment. If he's going to win, we're going to pimp him. It's only better for the brand, and to feed into his fans' delusions.
*Jimmy: How about Joshua and Jessica? You've given Josh 14 standing ovations already, you're just going to let him hanging...?
*Nigel: We're going to let Joshua and Jessica duke it out for the second spot.
*Jimmy: All this time, haven't you been telling me you want a girl to win?
*Nigel: Well, we know it's not going to happen this year with Phillip being among us. Next year, I have to go back to the drawing board and follow either the AI3 template where we cast horrible fish-out-of-the-water white teens or white contestants that are jokes, or follow the AI6 template where we have pop or R&B white boys instead of guys strumming guitars. Simply stated, we simply have to avid the guitar.
*Jimmy: So you've given up on this season.
*Nigel: Essentially. Look, my bad. Gross miscalculation on my part. As I said, market Phillip into hip hop now, and if that doesn't work out, invest heavily in Jessica. She has a ton of celebrity fans, has the youtube base, has a military fan base, has an international Filipino fan base, is pop/R&B, and sang current off the show. Again, I know we dumbed her down to the golden oldies on the show, but hey, I grew up with that sort of music. Also, the Idol audience is super old--we have to cater to them. We need the oldies, so we'd prefer if she sang well to Etta rather than to Beyonce. Off the show, you can Beyonce her up as much as you want and team her with rappers. But obviously, she has a lot of potential.
*Ryan: What's your opinion on Joshua?
*Jimmy: Awfully old school. I've really just lying under my teeth when I say I can market him. Just trying to get him votes, since we need a black guy to make it far on this show. Face it, he's as hard to market as Phillip. I like that he's a black guy--Jason DeRulo, Usher, mix a bit of the old school with the new--but he's really a '60s throwback, way too much of it. To be honest, I hope he doesn't win. With him and Phillip, off the show, if we make music that is true to what they did on the show, they're guaranteed flops. With Phillip *laughs* we might have another Lee DeWyze situation on our hands, if not worse, where we'll just drop him immediately.
*Nigel: So we've all agreed: that Phillip has to win this thing, to save our face, cater to the audience, even if we all vehemently disli ke him?
*Jimmy: Yes, that appears to be the case.
*Nigel: Then we'll pimp him accordingly next week. Until then, fellas.