Kara on Ellen: 'Idol' chemistry is crucial

'American Idol' judge DioGuardi hoping to establish identity

NEW YORK -- Kara DioGuardi wants to hang out with Ellen DeGeneres before the new season of "American Idol" to get the judges working together comfortably.

The second-year judge said she plans on spending down time in December with the newest addition to "Idol."

"I'm hoping the chemistry with Ellen will be great -- and a great start to the season," she said at the Media and Money conference in New York on Friday.

It's all part of her effort to establish her identity on the Fox show after a rookie year that saw plenty of criticism come her way about her on-air role. She explained, "you have to know on the show who you are and have a vision of yourself. What am I trying to represent? You'll see more of this branding myself."

DioGuardi also had kind words for Paula Abdul. Asked by Billboard editorial director Bill Werde what she thought of the departing judge, with whom DioGuardi as a songwriter has a long relationship, DioGuardi called her "the heart of the show." In her view, Abdul "nurtured and empathized. That was her role, and she was great at it."

As a songwriter, business owner (Arthouse Entertainment) and most recently a senior vp at Warner Bros. Records, DioGuardi has been mostly focused on inspiring, critiquing and putting young artists through their paces. That includes dealing with what she says all musicians have to deal with at one time or another: rejection.

Her role on "Idol" has reflected that background and approach -- but could now shift, given the dynamics to come.

"The show exists without me," "It's really a TV show, not just a singing contest: It's about the American dream, and it also plays an A&R role."

In other remarks to the mostly business and advertising executives at the Roosevelt Hotel gathering, the well-spoken (Duke-educated) music performer and entrepreneur dispelled for the audience any notion that creative people who are successful do anything "without working their asses off." A little crazy, well, yes, but disciplined totally.

"I made a choice early on to do something very difficult -- though when friends heard I wanted to be a songwriter they'd say 'how cute," she said, imitating a cutesy voice. But, to make it in such a tough business, she said she had to be "very focused, consistently looking at the trends."

And, DioGuardi made a point of saying that having had a stint at Billboard as her first job, she was savvy about the business of music before going out on her own.

"I was educated about where revenue streams came from," she told Werde. "Eventually I bet on myself and I knew, unlike many artists who can't pay the rent, I'd make a living (at running her own company and owning her own copyrights)."

In selling part of her own company, she said she thought of it as a stock, buy low, sell high, and indeed managed a great deal, tax advantages and all. (She had spent $5,000 to set Arthouse up out of her grandmother's house: All it took was "a pad, a car and my voice," she said.)

Despite all the problems in the music biz and the demonizing of the record labels, DioGuardi said that working for Warners has been eye-opening -- and given her the chance to cross that "final frontier": adding that competency to her experience in performance, writing, publishing and TV.

"They've always been more creator-friendly and not as corporatized. The people there at Warners, they really love music."

She was, she said, brought on because she was perceived as "outspoken and ballsy." (She had also broken artists in the pop music space, an area that Warners had gotten behind in.) Already, the label has two Billboard No. 1 pop records since she came aboard.

As for her own singing, DioGuardi said she performs occasionally for charities and at colleges, where she deconstructs the making of a song.

In its third annual outing, the two-day Media and Money confab is jointly co-sponsored by the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard parent the Nielsen Co. and Dow Jones.