Minor keeps 'Idol' music in key

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The lives of Fox's "American Idol" contestants might be incredibly stressful and unpredictable, but as long as musical director Rickey Minor is in charge of the music, they have one less thing to worry about. He's overseen music at this year's Grammy Awards, produced the pregame music for the last seven Super Bowls and is slated to oversee the tunes at this year's Emmy Awards -- clearly establishing himself as the go-to guy for live music on television.

"I have a clear respect for all genres of music," says Minor, who has served as the show's musical director for the last three seasons. "I'm fortunate in that my background is very diverse. I came up at a time where you had to learn how to read music and write and arrange."

A Louisiana native, Minor moved to South Los Angeles at a young age, then attended UCLA, where he studied math and computer science before leaving at age 19 to play bass on a tour with Gladys Knight & the Pips. By 22, he was working with an 18-year-old Whitney Houston, and by 1989 he was her musical director. He left that post to pursue television in 1999 and turned down the initial offer to be "Idol's" first music director -- they couldn't afford him.

"They decided, with it still being a new show, they didn't want the cost of having me do the show," Minor says of his first meeting with show creator Simon Fuller and the other "Idol" executive producers. "They didn't think the kids deserved to have A-class music."

But by the time "Idol's" 2004 Christmas special rolled around, the show had become a major success -- and he was hired for Season 4. After his first episode, Minor decided to change the prerecorded "karaoke-like" nature of the music on the show and bring in a live band. "I told the producers, 'Live music is gonna help foster a whole new type of contestant that does rock or country or any of those things. This is what they'll be faced with if they make it. This gives them an edge,'" he recalls.

After a day of negotiations, the producers relented. Now, as Minor says, "Basically, I have full autonomy to run the music department the way I see it needs to run."

Working with 22 musicians and 15 arrangers, Minor oversees the rehearsals, arrangements and performances for each of the contestants. He calls it a "tedious and time-consuming process," but he still finds time to have a one-on-one conversation with each contestant after the day's rehearsals. Whether it's making sure they get their "vocal rest," keeping their egos in check or keeping their audience in mind, Minor tries to instill "life lessons" from his nearly 30 years in the business.

"We're here to help them grow," Minor says. "It's bigger than the competition, and I tell them, 'The fact that you made it this far means that you're on the road to your own destiny. In doing so, know that there will be bumps on the road.'"

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