Behind the music

Key behind-the-scenes players in the show's success.

Simon Fuller
CEO, 19 Entertainment
Hails from: Hastings, England
"Idol" high: "The first finale with Kelly (Clarkson) and Justin (Guarini). That was when I thought, 'We've arrived.'"
"Idol" low: "The year when I was struggling to keep everything together with Simon (Cowell). But I think we've come through that, and I think we're back to celebrating a fantastic show."


There's a rare goodbye party going on in Simon Fuller's office at 19 Entertainment in London -- for an assistant who hadn't been for the company long -- and he's having a hard time concentrating. In the six seasons of "American Idol's" run on Fox in the U.S. and the year of "Pop Idol" in England before that, not many people have departed Fuller's universe.

As the man in charge of keeping everything together, Fuller has expended significant effort over the years to make sure that his key collaborators stay onboard. "Idol was always one of those shows that was going to be the biggest thing ever or would miss," Fuller reflects. "I knew as long as I could keep it together, and it didn't get broken up too quickly, we'd have a good run."

That's the same calculus Fuller has worked on all of his projects, including the Spice Girls and his early management efforts with Annie Lennox and Paul Hardcastle. "That's the story of my life, and that will continue -- it's all or nothing," he says.

Of all the people on the "Idol" team, Fuller's life has probably changed the least. He is still doing basically the same job he starting in the mid-1980s when he founded 19 Entertainment as an artist management company -- producing, managing, massaging a concept into an international sensation. It's just that now the stakes are higher because the money is bigger.

"I'm not sure anything dramatic in my life is marked by 'Idol,'" he says. "It's been an emotional roller coaster, but I really don't feel it's changed me."

Instead, he credits "Idol" with giving him confidence and maturity. "I really feel like I'm experienced," he says. "When I was starting out, especially on 'Idol,' I felt like I was going into the unknown. My mind has taken 'Idol' in every direction. I feel I can handle anything right now. The best thing I got out of 'Idol' is: Bring it on."

Nigel Lythgoe
Executive producer and president, 19 Television
Hails from: Liverpool, England
"Idol" high: "The success of the show keeps you spurred on. I'm proud of the number of hours we turn out -- we turned out five hours this week."
"Idol" low: "Just my heart attack."


Considering he suffered a heart attack, a case of peritonitis and quit a three-pack-a-day cigarette addiction all while in the midst of producing a live TV show two nights a week, Fox's "American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe is a fairly sanguine fellow. There's not even a hint in the 57-year-old trained dancer's voice of the "Nasty Nigel" name he earned while a judge on the pre-"Idol" British incarnation "Pop Idol."

There's a good reason for it all, he says: "I've become rich. It's ridiculously wonderful." He's become wildly successful, not only running the day-to-day operations of "Idol" but also being a producer and judge on the Fox companion show "So You Think You Can Dance." "It's my passion," he says.

"Dance" takes him back to his training as a dancer, which started when he was 11, and his early days as a choreographer. He and co-executive producer Ken Warwick trained at the same dance and drama academy in Liverpool and met at a summer arts camp. The two ended up working on an ITV show in England called "Gladiators," then teamed again on "Pop Idol."

And Lythgoe's fulfilling other dreams as well, having just bought a vineyard with Warwick -- and now Fox Reality is turning that subject matter into a show called "Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes." But Lythgoe -- who also is preparing to produce the 59th annual Primetime Emmy Awards this year with Warwick -- knows who signs his paychecks. "I fully recognize that without 'Idol,' I wouldn't be in Hollywood."

Ken Warwick
Executive producer, "American Idol"
Hails from: Hatfield, England
"Idol" high: "The best show I've ever made was last year's finale -- career-wise and everything."
"Idol" low: "Anytime the show plods along and is normal. (Then,) it's too predictable."


After six years of unprecedented TV success, Fox's "American Idol" executive producer Ken Warwick finally feels secure enough to move his family to the U.S. from England. All this time, Warwick has commuted to avoid disruption in his children's school schedules.

Of the duo comprising himself and co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, Warwick is actually the calm one. "I'm probably the only executive my age who hasn't had a heart attack,"says Warwick, who trained as a dancer at the same British dance and drama academy as Lythgoe.

Having worked together on several projects, Warwick and Lythgoe have developed a symbiotic relationship wherein they alternate directing, among other tasks, with neither specializing too much in one area. "I'm pretty good at graphics, and he's good at handling people. But apart from that, we both do anything," he says.

That should stand them in good stead for co-producing the Primetime Emmy Awards for the first time in September; additionally, their shared investment in a vineyard last year has become a Fox Reality series called "Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes."

But Warwick also has his own projects. While Lythgoe shepherds Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," Warwick has turned to NBC's "America's Got Talent."

"If this program stops, I'll go do another program. I'm not planning on starving," he says. Although in that case, the move would have to wait.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz
CEO, FremantleMedia North America
Hails from: Lyon, France
"Idol" high: "The morning after we premiered -- this year and last year. You wake up, and you go, 'I can't believe it.' You're numb."
"Idol" low: "The two Simons' (Fuller and Cowell) fallout was hard."

It's called "American Idol," but from the start, the Fox show has been a haven for British men -- except in one case: Pulling the all-important purse strings is a Frenchwoman.

"I love their sense of humor. That's the best thing about them," she says about dealing with her co-workers. "Before coming here, I worked in England for six years, so I'm more than used to it."

The differences between Cecile Frot-Coutaz and her co-workers don't stop there -- most of the Brits involved with "Idol" come from song-and-dance backgrounds, while she carries an MBA and a long history in the business world. An executive with the London-based Pearson Group, she was one of several behind the acquisition of All American Fremantle in 1997, which was then rebranded as FremantleMedia North America in 2001. When the company went into business with Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment to produce "Idol," she was assigned the task of heading up the business end of things, such as negotiating the first sponsorship deals and the first licensing opportunities.

"In some ways, there's before 'Idol' and after 'Idol,' and it's getting hard to imagine life before," she says.

Yet, while the show continues to expand, and the business propositions land in her lap now rather than requiring her to chase them down, Frot-Coutaz's job is more complicated than ever. And that's partly due to her becoming a mother during Season 3, which was when she was promoted to run the entire FMNA division. Now, her responsibilities include overseeing "Idol" and all of the company's North American operations, which include ABC's "American Inventor," CBS' "The Price Is Right," NBC's "America's Got Talent," TLC's "Property Ladder" and the syndicated game show "Family Feud."

"It's harder now," she says. "Some people have said to me, 'You can't do it anymore.' But it's hard to give it up for emotional reasons. It's not just for what happens on the screen that's complicated; behind the screen needs constant attention, too."

And when she finally gets home after supervising the day's taping, Frot-Coutaz has to watch it all over again with her family. "My daughter likes the show," she says. "She watched the audition shows this year and was concerned for the various contestants. She was quite interested in 'the crying lady' (contestant). It was kind of funny what kids gravitate toward."

MORE 'AMERICAN IDOL' COVERAGE
'Idol' worship: Television's force of nature teaches the world to sing
Behind the music: The execs behind 'Idol'
Here come the judges: The real reasons fans tune in
Global village: 'Idol' brings taste of democracy
Special delivery: Packaging for the world market
Winners' circle: Thoughts from the show's five champs
Guest list: Special appearances become winners
Single sell: Gold records and Grammys
Virtual 'Idol': Reaching fans 24/7
Magic number: Behind 19 Entertainment's success
'American' way: Everything's up for promotional grabs
After party: Marketing 'Idol' winners
Music sharing: Music supervisor clears the air
Minor key: ‘Idol’s’ music director keeps things in tune
Survival, 'Idol'-style: How to cope with competition


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