Secrets Behind 'American Idol's' Incredible Comeback

 Art Streiber

For the first time, and in dramatic detail, the players recount in the new Hollywood Reporter the crisis at hand after Simon Cowell quit, who was on their first shortlist of judges and the meetings that led to this season’s Dream Team.


RYAN SEACREST Ellen realized Idol wasn't the perfect fit for her and that on top of doing her daily show, it was a lot of work. She's a dear friend, I loved having her there.

RANDY JACKSON As for Kara, I think she found it hard to get her footing and figure out how she would fit into this thing. And with four people, the timing was difficult as well. It's tough to walk into something so established and become, not just the third wheel but the fourth.

DARNELL There were meetings, conference calls, video conferences between myself, Cecile, Fuller, [Fox chairman] Peter Rice, Nigel and Ken -- for some, we were all together, others were piecemeal. But for me personally, it was thousands of phone calls, and that is not an exaggeration.

FROT-COUTAZ We met a lot of people, we looked at a lot of names. I wanted to make sure we didn't leave any stone unturned, hadn't made any assumptions and we'd gone as broad as we possibly could. There was no bad idea.

DARNELL We weren't sure what direction we were going, so we just kept taking meetings. We had a list: Mariah Carey was on it, Shania Twain, Harry Connick Jr. Cecile and I were the first line of defense, and we met with at least 40 people... A lot of names were being thrown around -- some were comical to us, some were real. We heard from Trump, who actually did call us through his people. He didn't know anything about music! The cooking lady Paula Deen was also pitched...

FROT-COUTAZ Then I had lunch with Randy Jackson, and we were brainstorming, and he's the one who said, "Have you thought about Steven Tyler?" We hadn't. It turned out Kara, who deserves some credit for this, had just worked with Steven, and she brought up the idea to Randy.

JACKSON Unbeknownst to Kara, I mentioned Steven to the producers. I thought, he's a guy where what you see is what you get. And I think these shows need more of that.


DARNELL I didn't know what I was looking for until Steven walked in. I kept hoping for a personality, someone different, who didn't fit into the mold. So I came into my office a little late, his back was turned, and I have a piano in my office which he was playing -- not something rock 'n' roll-y, I think it was classical. He turned around, and I was wearing my cowboy hat, which I often do, and he looked at me and said, "You're a freak!" Then we just started talking. He was ultracool yet not snobby about music. He was so honest about his rehab and Aerosmith; he told me his father was a classical musician, that he listens to everything and that some music makes him cry. He was entertaining, just like you see him now. Having spent 40 years being a huge rock star, he didn't watch what he said, and I don't just mean him cursing. He was filter-less. We met for 20 minutes, and I knew that day. I literally ran to Peter Rice's office the minute he left and said, "We finally got one."

SEACREST I remember Cecile telling me she was going to go meet Steven Tyler and she wasn't quite sure what to expect. He blew her away. She said, "You would think he's this tough, badass rock star, which he is, but he's probably got the biggest heart on the panel."

DARNELL Now with Jennifer, she was on Simon's lips and on his list, and we loved it. We were invested in her long before we had Steven.

FULLER I had lunch with Jennifer and her manager Benny Medina at the Beverly Hills Hotel in April of last year to ask her to do a show with me called Q'Viva. But as we were talking, I had in the back of my mind that she would be great for Idol. So I brought it up halfway through the main course, maybe into the coffee and tea. I just threw it out there. She was a huge fan of the show, so she knew all about Idol -- she was like an expert, actually. She watched it every season. Jennifer didn't say yes there and then, but I knew she was intrigued, and eventually I got her to do it.

SEACREST I remember Benny Medina calling me after they had done all their meetings and seen all the players. He wanted some input, and I said: "Do it. She won't need it, but I promise you, I will always have Jennifer's back on that live show. She will be phenomenal."

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