The popular host discusses the new season, Jennifer Hudson and why the show is still successful after 5 years

If the term "dawg" has a place in the American vernacular the credit for that would largely belong to Randy Jackson. As a host on the immensely popular TV show American Idol, this former bass player for Journey and Eddie Money is now a superstar the world over. Sharing the judging duties with the precocious Simon Cowell and the doe-eyed Paula Abdul, Jackson manages to stand out simply by being his vivacious self. We recently had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with this lively host, musician, and Grammy winning producer as the show will soon debut in it's 6th season.

Simon has complained about the guest judges on the show. Do you mind them or could you live without them yourself?

Randy Jackson: I think I could definitely live without them. Look, the show works because it is the three of us on the panel and kind of what we do and how we interact, I don't necessarily think that we need guest judges. When people come in be judges it's often a little awkward and little hard for them. I think people look at the show as a fan and go, "Oh, I could do that." It's almost like saying, "I could be a pitcher." You could do it but is it going to be good? Or, are you going to be there for the TV face time?"

Is it the executive producers who make that call?

Randy Jackson: I actually don't know who makes the call. I think I could do without it, too.

How many people do you see in each audition city?

Randy Jackson: We spend about two days in each city. We generally see about 200 people a day. That's a lot of singing, dude.

Anything new this year that we can expect?

Randy Jackson: I'm gonna wear more yellow and lime green. In honor of Gnarls Barkley. No, we have a few things that we change but I think the formula is pretty much what it is. You'll see a couple of wrinkles here and there but of course I can't tell you what that is.

The show continues to be successful, year after year, why do you think that is? And, what would have to happen for it not to be successful?

Randy Jackson: Well, I think this is the greatest, music, talent show ever, alright. I know that me, Simon and Paula, we never think about the ratings or look at that or whatever. I think we go out and just do what we do. I think there's an abundance of talent in America and there will never be not a lot of talent out there. You see what's happening to Jennifer Hudson, who didn't even win that year, that tells you right there there's a lot of great talent out there.

Did any particular genre shine during the auditions this year?

Randy Jackson: This year, it's really weird, we had some of everything, man. Of course more rock guys because of Chris Daughtry, and I think there were a couple more Taylor Hicks kind of guys. Fortunately for us, every year the show gets more validation because more people see that there's great people that have won and gone on to great careers.

You mention hearing over a hundred auditions a day. How can you as a judge give equal time and equal attention to each one?

Randy Jackson: One of the things that makes the show really, really cool is that myself, Simon and Paula are really 25+ year music industry veterans. Me having been an A&R guy for 15 years and also being a musician myself, and having been on countless numbers of auditions when I was growing up, you're used to doing it. I've put bands together... it's what I do. I kind of know how to pace myself by this point, you know what I mean?

How do you explain Jennifer Hudson losing American Idol and now blowing past Beyonce in Dreamgirls?

Randy Jackson: Me, personally, I don't think she blows away Beyonce in Dreamgirls. I think she's amazing in Dreamgirls, I think Jennifer Holiday has an equally amazing voice. It's harder to be the original one than the second or the third one. I think she's done amazingly well but I remind people every time, "The girl that won that year, her name was Fantasia Barrino, and if you want to know why she won go back and listen to that 'Summertime' version she did. It's the best Idol performance to date."

Do you think technically competent singers aren't thinking enough about the emotional part of the songs they sing?

Randy Jackson: Yeah, I think what happens is that we pick kids off the street, this is an open call... these are people that are not seasoned veterans. This is the reason why myself and the judges keep talking about song choice during the season, because... if they really listen and went back over everything we said to them, they're getting the lessons of life from three industry professionals plus the guest judges. A song is basically comprised of a bunch of things: the lyrics, the melody, and it's also you being able to tie in emotionally to what that song means.

The bad singers are a mainstay every year. Yet, it seems like you guys are trying to rid the show of the riff raff. Where are you guys drawing the line?

Randy Jackson: Well listen, I still think you're gonna get some of that through because you're gonna see a cross section of everyone. It's hard to stamp that completely out. I think someone walks in the door and they're in this weird costume... so you just go, "Okay, do you believe that you really have talent? Or, are you here for the buffoonery of it all?" I think we're trying to draw the line somewhat there, you know?

You guys are having a song competition at the same time... how do you feel that might diminish the impact of the competition?

Randy Jackson: I don't know if that will diminish the impact. Great songs are still hard to find and I wish everyone luck in writing or whoever 's gonna submit out there. I'm a songwriter myself so I know how hard it really is.

What's your impression of that new singing show You're the One That I Want?

Randy Jackson: See this shows you, there's not a lot of originality, is there?

Do you find you get less non-talented people these days or is it always pretty consistent?

Randy Jackson: I think you have a great competition, you can become a celebrity over night, get a huge record contract, and become very rich and very famous fast... I think you're gonna get a lot of people showing up. You get the good and the bad of it always. The scale definitely tips in both directions.

Can we expect the show to be even bigger and more exciting this time around?

Randy Jackson: Yeah, we continue to have fun with it and I think everyone did an amazing job producing that finale show last year. Prince blew the doors off! He is one of the quintessential ones of our time.

Do you have in your mind somebody who went off the show too soon?

Randy Jackson: I think a lot of people get voted off a little soon but I think sometimes during the course of the season, especially when it gets down to the top 7 or 6 people, I think America gets a little confused at times. When someone goes off every week those votes are gonna go somewhere. You never know where they're gonna go exactly and I think somebody falls in the clutches there sometimes. America's gotten it right every year and I think the right person has won every time.

American Idol premieres January 16 and 17 at 8/7c on FOX.

Evan Jacobs