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.


DARNELL I don't sleep a lot on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I'll wake up at 4:45 and will have some sense of the ratings by 5 in the morning. I'm very superstitious, so I always check them from this one computer I have set up downstairs in my house. Then I will call or e-mail -- usually at a little less vampire-like time -- everybody something. And this year, we didn't know what to expect. That first night, it came in a little more than we thought, and then every progressive week, it's gotten better and better. But I never relax about the ratings. I'll be sweating it every week until after the finale.

LYTHGOE The minute we were sort of successful again, people on Twitter were saying, "Oh, but the ratings aren't as good as this … " And I would reply, "Yes they are!" I found myself probably arguing with a 7-year-old in Wisconsin.

WARWICK All we can do is give the viewers the best show possible. Whether they watch it or not, you genuinely don't know. I was pretty confident that they would. We wanted to be quite positive about the talent just to change it up from what it has been in the past 10 years, which was very negative. It worked well; we managed to pick good stories. It's what we do.

FULLER Obviously, it was really important that we did well this year. Everybody felt that, and I think it's reflected in probably our best season ever.

IOVINE I didn't know what to expect because I don't really understand television. When everyone said, "Simon's leaving," I was thinking, "If the ratings went down to 10 million people, that's great! I could break an artist off that!"


SEACREST I was nervous going into the live shows because with all those moving parts and new bodies in those seats -- it is a machine, there's a lot going on to run that show. So I was curious to see how smoothly it would go. And I mean, you watch it now, it's like they've been doing it all their lives; the timing and the cadence is great.

WARWICK We were always going to do a Top 12, although after deciding to shorten the middle rounds, we had also been in deep discussions about whether there should be a Top 10. Like, how much can the public take before they start to get fed up? That had been a concern in the past, particularly with the Top 24 shows. Then on the night of the wild-card show -- which was designed to give a bit of jeopardy to the end of that middle process -- the judges decided there and then to do the saving and go with 13, and we went along with it.

JACKSON It's also one of the most diverse bunches we've ever had -- you got Casey Abrams, a jazz guy; Paul McDonald, a young Rod Stewart-Bob Dylan guy that loves Ryan Adams; Lauren Alaina is your Carrie meets Kelly country girl; Haley Reinhart is your Joss Stone; and you have an old-school country crooner in Scotty McCreery.

MARCH 2011

FULLER Each year, we have one or two standout kids. The difference this year was everyone had something great about him or her. We never had such a compelling group.

DARNELL It's one of the reasons I put the save in. There was a lot of controversy about it internally with the producers when I first proposed it, but ultimately it's been a great thing. It adds drama to the results shows. It's worked great.

LYTHGOE I was one of the people who was so against it, but thank God we saved Casey. From a practical point of view, I loved it because here was a guy who really deserved to be saved. But I would prefer to go to my way, which is the judges make the decision out of the bottom two or three that America votes. Then you don't need a save.

JACKSON We used the save that early out of this feeling of oneness with that kid's talent and how he's so different. As a jazz guy, he's probably more musical than anyone we've ever had on the show. I also think we were all a little shocked when Pia Toscano got ousted so early.

FROT-COUTAZ Pia is a fantastic singer, and technically she was probably one of our best, but somehow she didn't connect with people. She was almost too perfect. If the judges hadn't saved Casey, I'm sure they would have saved Pia.

JACKSON It's about emotional investment. Like with Haley, we've seen her grow in the competition -- she's been in the bottom a ton of times and is still around -- so obviously the public believes that she's honestly giving them something. Lauren, too, they're both still standing. It's about getting them to fully engage on all levels. Everyone is talented, but who's gonna win this damn thing? Come on, now.

IOVINE Scotty is very much a turnkey artist. Few singers you meet come fully equipped, batteries included, and he's that kid. … Bottom line is, I got lucky. I can make a record with anyone I want. That's the luxury of being me, right?

DARNELL It has always been about America's decision. And they've done pretty well over the years. Do I always agree with the winner? No. But that's my own personal feelings, and America is in charge -- that's what makes the show work. And the good news is that, over the years, whether you're out fifth or second or if you win doesn't determine how big of a star you're going to be necessarily. We have so many examples of people doing well -- Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Clay Aiken -- without winning the show.

FROT-COUTAZ The year Chris Daughtry got voted out I was really unhappy. I wanted to boycott the show.

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