August 26, 2008

Just Take That Seat By Simon

By Bill Keveney and Brian Mansfield

American Idol's judging trio is now a quartet.

Kara DioGuardi, a Grammy-nominated songwriter who has penned hits for Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera, will join Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul for the eighth season, which starts in January.

DioGuardi's arrival is one of a number of upcoming changes designed "to keep the show fresh (and) make it a bit more unpredictable again," executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz says.

Idol remained TV's No. 1 show by a wide margin last season, but was down 8% in viewers before the finale topped the previous season's closer by 3%.

The addition of DioGuardi, who works with the judges for the first time today at auditions in New York, could "bring out new reactions" from the other judges and is in no way a criticism of them, Frot-Coutaz says.

In the case of tie votes on which singers go to Hollywood and which make the top 24, the plan is for Cowell to cast a deciding vote, she says.

DioGuardi, in a conference call, says she'll be constructive with criticism and will give an honest opinion. "If I feel I need to be hard with someone to get that across, I will be. If I need to be softer or more nurturing with some of the contestants, I'll be that."

Emanuel Kiriakou, who has written songs with DioGuardi for David Archuleta and Nick Lachey, calls her "beautifully honest. She will not mince words. I don't think she'll be mean for the sake of being mean."

DioGuardi goes back the longest with Abdul, having written a song together (Spinning Around for Kylie Minogue). She also has worked in the studio with producer Jackson.

Cowell congratulated her on Sunday, and she says she's up for the challenge of working with the acid-tongued judge, who is "pretty spot-on most of the time" with his judgments. "I'm just going to speak to Simon the way I speak to everybody," she says. "I'm going to have my opinion, be honest."

Initially, Idol producers intended to have four judges, as the original British format did, but couldn't find the right person, says Frot-Coutaz. At the start of Season 2, DJ and hip-hop performer Angie Martinez joined the panel, but quit after three days.

It made sense to add a second woman, Frot-Coutaz says, and DioGuardi adds a songwriter's perspective to the judges' panel. "Kara will be about how, for an artist to make an impact, he or she needs to connect with the words." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>