Thursday, February 11, 2010

Howard Stern & American Idol

Lately, there has been a LOT of chatter about AI possibly considering Howard Stern to replace Simon. Some say that he's the perfect choice, others say if they bring him on they'll stop watching (of course, most of those people said they'd stop if David Cook won over Archie, or after Paula left, or when Simon said he was leaving, so take most of that with a HUGE grain of salt,) and even Ellen said that if he joins she'll leave (she's on a 4 year contract, so good luck with that.)

Let's take a look at this from different angles.

First, some have said that Howard couldn't replace Simon as Simon is known for grooming talent and Howard is not. Some also say that he couldn't replace Simon as he doesn't have any musical background. Well, what musical background does Ellen have? Besides, a lack of a musical background just isn't true. Besides being in the radio business for over 30 years, Howard himself does have some musical background and a knack for spotting talent. When Howard was a teen, he was in a band. Mark McGrath's band Sugar Ray actually covered one of Howard's songs called "Psychedelic Bee." Most people think of Howard as a Shock Jock, but when he started, there was no such thing. He was a DJ playing music like everyone else. He eventually became a Program Director at some of the stations that he worked at. The Program Director is responsible for creating the playlist of music that is played each day on their station. They may leave open slots for "DJ's Choice" or "Requests," but by and large, they decide what gets played. As a PD, Howard met with many bands, introduced bands at concerts, and listened to demos and new singles and albums to decide what got on the air.

3 artists that Howard championed before ANYONE else include Billy Squier, Bon Jovi, and Sugar Ray. In fact, while a DJ in Detroit, he heard Billy Squier's first album "Tale of the Tape" and invited Billy to come to Detroit and perform on the air. Billy was dead broke at the time, and Howard let him stay at the studio and sleep on the floor because he couldn't afford a hotel room. Billy's song "The Big Beat" from that album, while not a hit, has been sampled by a dozen or so rap artists for it's heavy drum and bass beat lines. Billy's next album "Don't Say No" was an ENORMOUS hit, and is still one of my Top 10 (maybe Top 5) albums of all time.

Bon Jovi was "discovered" by musician Aldo Nova who had a hit song called "Fantasy." Aldo had Bon Jovi cut a demo called "Runaway." Howard picked it up at the radio station he was at the time (I think in Washington DC) and played the HECK out of it. In fact, Howard sent it to people who he was still friendly with in the business or at his former stations, to see what they thought. If you saw the movie "Private Parts" there is a famous sequence where the radio station Howard worked at in Detroit called W4 became a country station called WWWW. One DJ went from calling himself the "Doc of Rock" to the "Country Doctor." In real life, the "Doc of Rock" moved to another rock station and became their Program Director. He later started a music video show that aired locally late nights on PBS. Well, the "Doc of Rock" is one of the people who Howard sent the demo to. We here in Detroit got to hear "Runaway" by Bon Jovi at least a good 8 or 9 months before it was released nationwide. When it was finally released as a single nationwide, with the video, it had already come and gone as a hit here in Detroit, but became a hit all over again.

By the time Sugar Ray got started, Howard had long since stopped being a DJ and became a Shock Jock. Regardless, he would still play music between commercials occasionally, and have bands come in and play. For whatever reason, he took a shining to Sugar Ray and Mark McGrath claims that they wouldn't have become successful and he wouldn't have gone on to co-host Extra for several years if not for Howard. Howard also has took a liking to the bands Staind and Train and they have become the de facto "house bands" for Howard's show.

Howard is well known for promoting bands, musicians, and even the soundtrack to his movie Private Parts contained bands and songs all hand picked by Howard. He even was supposed to have an unreleased song by the band Tool who did an amazing 11-12 minute cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," but at the last minute, the band decided they didn't want it released (the band later included it on a home DVD.) So Howard had to fill that time with 2 more songs, again picked by him. That soundtrack was #1 the week it was released and sold millions of copies. Howard himself is featured in 2 songs, 1 by Rob Zombie that continues to be played on rock stations all over the country.

The biggest issue is that Howard might be too snarky for AI. He is a huuuuge fan of AI, and talks about the contestants and if they're decent he'll give them some props. If they suck, he'll blast them. He also tends to be like Simon was during AI's early years, where he can't separate the singer from their look. He's one of those people who believe a pop star, tv star, or movie star should look a certain way. In other words, be attractive and thin. So, someone like Adele could try out for AI and Howard would probably vote no just because she's fat. Heck, if Kelly Clarkson were to audition now, he'd prrobably say "too fat," and he really liked her. Perhaps the producers (and his wife) could convince him to focus on the singing, not the look, but heck, even Kara spends half the time talking about a "packaged artist" and that includes already having the "right look."

Other problems are how Howard has talked about the judges. Howard had the judges on his show before. One time, he brought in the guy who wrote and co-sang the song "Hero" from the first Spiderman movie. The judges said he didn't have what it took to be a singer. The single for "Hero" sold like 10 million copies. He has ripped on Randy for not having anything worthwhile to say (which is true,) and for eating through his gastric bypass. He bagged on Paula for being ditzy or on drugs or meds. He's had Ryan on the show too, but has ripped on him constantly as being vanilla, watered-down, and getting by on pandering to the audience rather than having any real talent to excel on his own. Kara said that to replace Simon, they need someone with his type of history and Howard doesn't have that. As I just pointed out above, he has more credentials than Ellen. Howard (along with thinks Kara has not made for a very good judge. But, his comments on Ellen have been the worst.

Howard's wife is a big animal rights supporter, and is the spokesperson for the North Shore Animal League. Howard also has long been a champion of gay rights. Howard's favorite cousin is gay and he talks about how his cousin was openly gay in school back in the 60s. Howard hired Star Trek's George Takei to be his announcer, and George appears for a week every 3-4 months. Howard gave Ellen congrats on trying to help dogs, but slammed her on her habit of adopting dogs, and then giving them back or giving them away. He also gave her kudos for marrying Portia DiRossi when it was legal in California. However, he also has slammed her for dressing like a slob, trying to look as manly as possible, not being funny, and having a terrible talk show that has less viewers than he has listeners and people have to pay to hear him. Some who don't listen to Howard have said that he's anti gay and anti-women. He was married to the same woman for over 25 years, dated his current wife for 7 years before getting married, has 3 children who are all young women now, his favorite 2 people in the world are his sister and his mother, and his co-host of over 25 years is a black woman named Robin Quivers. I don't think he's anti-women, and he's actually been lauded by many gay rights groups, so I don't think he's anti-gay. He's just anti-Ellen. So, of course when asked about Howard possibly joining, Ellen said that if he did she would quit.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that Howard invented American Idol back in the early 80s while a DJ here in Detroit. People say that Howard claims to have invented everything, but much of what he says has a point.

He used to do a bit where they asked homeless people, strippers and porn stars standard "common knowledge" questions, which Jay Leno ripped off as "Jay Walking." It also was ripped off by the game show "Street Smarts" where contestants actually bet on if the person would know the answer or not, which is what Howard and his crew also would do from time to time. In 2002, Howard had a football pick contest amongst his staff, some fans, and a chicken where the chicken would "pick" the winner of games. Jay Leno ripped off the chicken football picking bit at least once during his run on the 10pm Jay Leno Show. Howard also had a version of his "Street Smarts/Jay Walking" type game that he called, "Are They Smarter Than a 5th Grader." Yes, you read that correctly. Back in the 90s, he would have a staff member ask 5th graders the same "common knowledge" questions, and then would ask random people on the streets (not just homeless people, but people walking by on their way to work.) If the person got it right, they'd win a prize, like a $500 gift certificate to a high end jeweler.

But, back in the 80s when Howard was at W-4 in Detroit, he would bring in local singers and bands and have them perform in front of 3 judges who were in the music industry. Gee, does THAT sound familiar? I have no idea how Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell and Nigel Lythgoe could have heard it somehow or found out about it, or it was just coincidental, but Howard's Detroit Talent Search bit was an awful lot like AI. Of course, Howard would be the Ryan Seacrest of the bit, and not an actual judge, although he usually offered his opinion. The judges were usually 1 record exec, 1 talent scout (yes, they actually used to have those,) and 1 established act (one time I recall it being Mitch Ryder.) So not only does Howard have musical credentials, he actually has a history with having created essentially the same concept 20 years earlier.

While I think that Howard is qualified for the job, and certainly much more qualified that Ellen, and although Howard may have 15-20 million fans, most of his fans do not watch AI, and most who watch AI are not his fans. So, bottom line, he would not be a good fit. I would like to see him as a guest judge though.

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