How 'Idol's' Music Got Better

 Joe Pugliese

When Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine signed on as American Idol's Season 10 in-house mentor and the executive tasked with developing the contestants' postshow careers, he anticipated a new routine: having to sit in a makeup chair, learning to talk in sound bites, maybe even signing autographs on the street. What he didn't bargain for? "The time commitment," he says. "It's brutal. It surprised the hell out of me. It's a lot of hours that I don't have." Blame ambition. To ensure that "every kid has every ounce of a shot at winning this thing," Iovine -- a respected record man who's worked on such seminal albums as Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes -- enlisted the help of 14 of today's leading hitmakers to produce music for the contestants (performance tracks and iTunes recordings) and asked artists on his roster including Lady Gaga, will.i.am and Sheryl Crow to come in for one-on-one sessions. "The purpose was to help the contestants grow and get better," he says. "I want stars to come out of this thing -- people that are going to last."

Jimmy Iovine
Credits: Lady Gaga, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Gwen Stefani

"Everyone would have done it, but not everyone would have stayed had they known how hard it was going to be," Iovine says of the demanding Idol music schedule. "They've done an incredible job."

Ron Fair
Credits: The Black Eyed Peas, Christina Aguilera

The longtime A&R executive is known for his work with divas, but it's the country contingent that has him excited this year. "The tide dragged in two phenomenal talents in Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina -- both in their teens, both in high school, both sensational."
 
Toby Gad
Credits: Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy," Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry"'

The German-born songwriter seems to have a soft spot for Idol alums. He's worked with Kelly Clarkson, Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta and Jordin Sparks.

Chuck Reed
Interscope Studios' Music Production Supervisor

Having spent more than two decades at Interscope, Reed -- who helped design and build the studio complex where the contestants record -- speaks fluent Iovine. "He knows my taste; he knows everything about me," Iovine says of the man in charge of the schedule. "He also understands music."

Jim Jonsin
Credits: Usher, Lil Wayne, Jamie Foxx, Eminem

"The carrots in this whole thing are the TV time and the experience," says the in-demand hip-hop producer, who relocated temporarily from Miami.

Rodney Jerkins
Credits: Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson

Although he's made a name working with divas, the Idol exercise has revealed new talents for Jerkins. "I've always wanted to work with someone country," he says, "so this was a good opportunity to prove I can do anything. It doesn't put me in a box."

Tricky Stewart
Credits: Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez

A contestant hazard: choosing to perform a hit that one of the Idol producers worked on. It happened to Tricky when Naima Adedapo chose Rihanna's "Umbrella" on Week 1. "That's an amazing feeling," he says. "That's what you do it for."

Dallas Austin
Credits: Michael Jackson, Boyz II Men, TLC

The Atlanta-based Grammy winner made a name for himself by executive producing TLC's crossover hit, CrazySexyCool.

Kuk Harrell
Credits: Beyonce's "Single Ladies," Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never"

The vocal wizard works regularly with his cousin, Tricky Stewart, and singer The-Dream, amassing impressive credits and Grammys.

Rock Mafia
Credits: Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato

Iovine's Idol advice for the songwriter-producer team of Tim James and Antonina Armato? "He's all about what's real and authentic and will resonate within the culture," Armato says. "Jimmy would say it's one thing to write a hit song, it's another thing to write a hit song that breaks an artist."

Not Pictured: Don Was, Alex Da Kid, Harvey Mason Jr., Polow Da Don

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