'American Idol': Randy Jackson on Being a Mentor, New Themes and Simon Cowell
'American Idol': Randy Jackson on Being a Mentor, New Themes and Simon Cowell
Jeff Dodge
Jeff Dodge
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
American Idol has undergone some changes in season 13, including replacing Jimmy Iovine with Randy Jackson as the new in-house mentor. When the semifinalists perform this week, we'll get our first look at Randy in his new role when he has the singers take part in the first-ever Idol workshop.

Randy talked with reporters, including BuddyTV, about why he wanted to be a mentor this year instead of a judge, the workshop (and reuniting with Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert), changes to the themes and the level of talent this season. And read on to also find out what he thinks of the first openly gay contestant and if he would ever work with Simon Cowell again.

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Going from Judge to Mentor

For the past 12 seasons, Randy Jackson has been a staple at the judges' table, surviving various overhauls to the panel and the show along the way. When asked why he prefers to be a mentor this year instead of a judge, he replied, "After [helping launch] this show, as a judge I felt I'd said and done everything that I ever wanted to or desired to do as a judge, and I just felt like it was my time to do something else. I'm a big evolution guy. I felt there's no other way I could say or do it. I'm really excited to step into the mentor role because I get a chance to work hands-on with the contestants and impart some of the wisdom I've gained over my 35-year career to them."

But does he miss being a judge? Surprisingly, the answer is no. "I don't really miss it at all. When I walked away, I was really done with it. ... I couldn't even figure out another way to say stuff."

The Workshop with Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert

Randy is taking over as the in-house mentor from record executive/producer Jimmy Iovine, who has been with Idol for the past three seasons. Jimmy was known to be completely blunt and honest, and even sparred with the judges every so often. If you were a fan of his style, you're out of luck, because those who want someone with a softer approach are having their wishes comes true, with Randy saying his approach is "completely [different]. I love Jimmy and I think he's great ... But I think it's just a different kind of thing. I really want to be a little bit more hands-on and nurturing."

Now that he's able to be more "hands-on," as he put it, what changes is he personally bringing to the show? The biggest addition from him is a workshop for the contestants. I asked him how this idea came about, and he said, "It's something that I wanted to do. I saw a lot of things being a judge over the years. I thought of a lot of ideas, a lot of things that I would possibly do different and also that I think would help enhance the show."

He went on to say, "And now that we're in the Idol 2.0 mode, it's something that I wanted to [put on the table] when I first decided to be a mentor. It's something that's long been needed." Since this is the very first time the workshop is taking place, Randy is hoping "it'll continue for a long time."

He won't be alone to guide the contestants during the workshop; he's bringing along two familiar faces: season 4 fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry and season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert. "They were actually in the trenches of people we were actually judging, so they can tell it from a completely different side. And the two of them are so different, but they're also equally really, really talented. They were able to impart a lot of wisdom on what they go through [as contestants]."

So what are the three of them actually doing during the workshop? "We talk about everything ... because I really wanted to break it down for the kids. 'Are you really hearing what [the judges] are saying, are you retaining 20%, 30%? What are you listening to because you've got cameras in your face, you've got 500 people in the audience, you got all the chatter from social media, you've got your friends and family, you have millions of people watching on TV.'"

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Song Choice and Themes

As a mentor, it's part of Randy's job to advise the contestants on choosing songs, changing the arrangements and much more. He wants to make sure that they aren't always performing songs that have been done a million times on Idol. But at the same time, if they do want to go in that direction (or with any song for that matter), "Do you have a different version of it?" he said. "Can you do something else different with it? ... I will definitely try and encourage that." Fans would welcome this, for sure.

The types of songs they can sing all depend on the music themes, which is an area that fans have wanted an update on for years. And if what Randy said is to be believed, then we should be cheering this news. "We've put a little bit of a twist on the themes. I don't think the themes are as narrow as they used to be. I think you'll like where we're going with the themes this season."

The Talent and Making History

Speaking of the contestants, Randy said that the talent this year is "amazing" and "more different than I think any other season." While he wouldn't go so far as to name any names, he does see "some frontrunners. ... I think the edge seems to me to be in the girls' favor, but I think the boys could come up and surprise everyone. There's some really, really unique and talented boys as well."

But there's one singer that he did talk about, and that is M.K. Nobilette, who made history last week by becoming the first openly gay contestant in the history of American Idol. Gay and bisexual singers have competed before, but their sexual orientation has never been mentioned on the show.

Randy is "really proud of her and I'm really happy for her. Who would have thought in 2014 you'd have to do that? We should have come a lot farther a lot faster, but it is what it is."

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Will Randy Work with Simon Again?

With the recent cancellation of Simon Cowell's US X Factor, Randy would "of course" love to work with his former co-judge again. "It'd be amazing." He went on to say that Simon is probably "plotting his US return as we speak, in a different, new way. He's a real creator. Never count him out." And even though he's still "getting over the shock" that Simon is now a father, he believes that the Brit is "gonna be a good dad."

American Idol is the Gold Standard

American Idol may no longer be in its prime and glory days anymore, but after all these years, it's still the "only show that can say we have successful contestants from this format," Randy said at the end of the interview. "No other show on TV right now that's a singing competition can really, really say that. That's the test to how well it's done." He finished up by making a bold statement: "I don't even know if any of those other shows will be on 13 seasons." Well, we already know The X Factor won't, but will The Voice
 

American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX, with a special Tuesday airing tonight for the start of the semifinals.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

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