Saving American Idol

This may just do it!

The new season of American Idol debuts tonight and the big change is the addition of Harry Connick, Jr. as a judge.


I read an interview with him on E: Entertainment News and his comments about his role are worth considering if you manage, coach or mentor air talent.

You signed up to be judged by us. I’m responding to a performance. I don’t believe you have to couch your critique in some compliment.”

“I used to watch the show and I would scream at the television, like, ‘They can’t sing!!’ Sometimes it’s a bit blunt and direct but it’s never personal. If I could wrap all these kids up in a blanket, I would. But we need to get on with this show. If they can’t sing, come on, they need to go home.” 

No, your air talent did not sign up to be judged by you specifically, but any performer has to expect criticism. It comes with the job, and a lot of on-air performers are ridiculously over-sensitive when it comes to anyone judging their on-air performance.

Yes, I understand that Harry has credibility earned from his success and that, perhaps, your PD or coach doesn’t have that level of success but you need to respect the job they have been hired to do until they prove to you they don’t deserve that respect.

Does that mean you suffer in silence, that you let inexperience cause your demise? Only you can answer that question, but coming at the critique process from a place of understanding both roles is helpful, for you and your PD.

At the same time, you — as a coach, as a programmer — have to be direct and honest in your evaluation of your air talent. The worst thing you can do is hand out undeserved compliments because it doesn’t provide feedback that will help your air talent grow and improve.

How can they do what you like if you won’t be specific in telling them what you like? Again, listen to Harry’s advice:

“The key is specificity. You can’t let them go without telling them what they did. You gotta back up what you say. If they sang out of tune, you gotta tell them: You sang out of tune.”

“I have said some things that I could see could be interpreted as mean. But I think of NFL coaches or Olympic coaches, and what are we doing here? I mean you all know what you signed up for. If it was terrible, I’m not going to say I like your dress. I’m going to say, ‘This ain’t no good!’ “ 

I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve had the great honor to work with some of the best air talent to ever work in radio and one of the keys to giving feedback is separating the person from the performance.

There’s never a reason to be mean. There’s never a reason to ridicule or demean.

Performing on-air is one of the toughest jobs in all of show business. It’s unscripted. It’s live. It’s relentless in the need for fresh, compelling content day after day after day, without producers, without writers, without help.

Still, if you’re not giving your talent honest, actionable, specific feedback almost daily, you’re doing them a disservice.

If you’re the talent, toughen up! Expect honesty. Expect critiquing every day. Ask for it! It will make you better.

And if you’re saying right now that your PD isn’t qualified to critique you, it’s time to move on. I know some of the best PDs in our business and while very few of them are looking for air talent — for obvious reasons — I’ll still put you in touch, because maybe, if you ask sincerely, they will mentor you.

I hope AI works this season, because it can be a learning experience for every talent coach in radio. And for the talent that needs coaching too.

I believe Harry knows what he’s talking about. Just like Simon did, only, maybe, nicer.

That could be a good thing too.