USA Today - May 14, 2003 - Chat with Tom Vickers 'American Idol': Tom Vickers
Wednesday, May 14, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, May 14, 1 p.m. ET
It's winding down to a close - who will win the big competition? And more importantly, what chances does the winner of American Idol have of becoming a star? What do music professionals look for in emerging talent? How are prospective stars marketed? Chat with Tom Vickers about becoming a real-life American idol.
Tom Vickers is an independent music consultant. He was formerly an artist and repertoire executive for Capitol and Mercury Records.
Madison, WI: Simon says that the most important thing he's looking for in an Idol winner is long-term staying power. Seems that could be a strike against Big Ruben -- a talented singer, but someone whose long-term health prospects might seem like a risky investment. Do you see that as a legitimate factor and concern, and if so, would you be advising him to shed any weight -- or might that compromise his sound?
Tom Vickers: I feel the long term health implications of his weight won't make themselves known for a number of years; however, he is very large, and just for his own well-being, I would say he'd need to lose a minimum of 30 pounds.
Livingston Montana: Will all three finalist have only 15 minutes of fame or are they as good as it sounds........
Tom Vickers: They will have more than 15 minutes of fame, but to what degree their fame goes longer is up to a number of factors, including: how well they translate what they've been able to achieve in the television show on the broader entertainment spectrum, including films, television appearances and touring.
Pittsburgh, PA: What are the chances of someone who got voted off early on becoming famous? Crissie
Tom Vickers: We've already seen someone who was kicked off the show in the persona of the fabulous Frenchie; she has such a dynamic look and personality that she has been visible on various television shows as an interviewer, and I've hear rumors that various labels are looking to sign her. As far as any of the other contestants who have been kicked off the show recently, it's a question of what opportunities come their way and how able they are to take advantage of those opportunities.
hannibal oh: to what degree does the judges opinions effect the peoples actual vote?
Tom Vickers: That is a tough question. I feel that a number of these artists have fans that are so loyal that the judges' opinion rarely matters.
Nashville, TN: I was reading an article yesterday where one of the producers of 'Idol' said that by NOT winning the competition a contestant could better his chances of doing music that fits his or her style. Do you think that's true? It would seem to make sense that by not having to work with Simon's company you could be free to work with The Neptunes, Garth Brooks, or any other producer you like. This way, it seems like you are destined to do the music the way they want you to do it. What do you think?
Tom Vickers: The problem is that my understanding of the show is that even if a contestant is dropped from the show, they're still under the control of the production company, so if they go on to have a larger career in some way, shape or form the production company that controls the show also controls their future.
Durham, NC: Of the three finalists who do you think (personally) has the most talent?
Tom Vickers: I personally think that Clay is the most talented. He has a great voice, a great presence, and I could see him go very far.
Rockford, Ill.: Does Josh Gracin have a shot at country stardom?
Tom Vickers: Absolutely. He is better suited to the country market than the pop market that Idol was forcing him into. He could definitely succeed as a country artist.
Springfield, Va.: What strikes me is that so many past and current artists that have sold millions of records would have been criticized on Am. Idol. For example, do you think that Tom Petty would have survived on that show? Not likely, but I'll take his talents over any performer that has ever been on that show. How can the show claim to be seeking emerging talent whne most stars today would never have made it on Am. Idol?
Tom Vickers: There's a large gap between the American Idol version of stardom and the broader definition of music stardom. Most of these artists are singers, and singers are singing other people's songs, whereas the artists that came up outside this show, like Petty, write their material, form a band, and spend many years touring and bulding an audience before they achieve stardom.
Centreville, VA: Musical styles and tastes tend to go through phases over the years (ie dance, bubblegum, grunge, folk, rock, etc). What do you predict will be the next big musical phase and which of the remaining three contestants do you think will best fit in this style?
Tom Vickers: It's hard to answer this question since it's hard to predict what the next phase will be. I personally feel that we are about to see a resurgence in rock, and none of these performers really would fit that new rock resurgence if indeed that becomes the more dominant style.
St. Simons Island, Ga: In your honest opinion, rate the Idols in terms of Talent, and Stage Presence.
Tom Vickers: Clay to me has the best overall voice and he has very strong stage presence; however, if there's a weak link in his chain it's his ability to move on stage. Ruben also has a great voice. He doesn't have a whole lot of stage presence, but his personal charisma is such that the audience embraces him anyway. Kimberley has the most stage presence of the three. She moves well on stage and has an engaging manner, and even though she sings extremely well, I find the tone of her voice sometimes gets a little harsh.
Comment from Tom Vickers: Each has strengths and weaknesses.
Sugar land, TX: What % is singing talent and what % is appearance of singer which makes them a star ?
Tom Vickers: You always look for both in an artist; a person who sings and carries themselves well and looks the part, and of the three Clay has more of the total package than the other two. However, in the case of Ruben, because he has such an engaging warmth about him, his weight issue may not mean as much to a number of fans.
Aurelia, IA: Is the AI winner guaranteed a recording contract for winning? If so, is it with one of the five "major" labels, and an established producer?
Tom Vickers: It is with BMG, which is run by one of the premiere music men in the industy, Clive Davis. With his contacts and ability, undoubtedly they would pick one of the best producers to work with whoever the eventual winner is.
Orange, CA: What are your feelings about the discrepancy between the styles/songs the AI finalists were asked to perform and the styles of today? Do any of them have a chance singing today's music (whatever that is)?
Tom Vickers: Lately, rap and hip hop have dominated the charts more than the pop songs that the Idol contestants are asked to sing. However, both Ruben and Kimberley could easily fit into the rap/hip-hop genre, where Clay would have a difficult if not impossible time being taken seriously as a rap artist.
Ithaca, NY: Today's radio market seems increasingly stand-alone single-driven. Career artists like Madonna and Mariah Carey can't get their songs played on contemporary radio anymore. Given music's penchant for snapping up the hot thing for one hit single, then dropping them for the next hot thing, do you think a show like "American Idol" can really help someone build a career in the industry?
Tom Vickers: That's a difficult question, given the nature of radio that you just accurately outlined. Because there has been more and more consolidation in radio, there is less diversification in the playlist of radio, and as a result radio has lost the excitement it once had for offering the soundtrack to our lives. In today's climate, if one of the winning idols could have two, perhaps three hit singles, that would be a miracle.
Atlanta, GA: What does the winner of American Idol get? When the finalists tour the US this summer, are they paid?
Tom Vickers: The winner gets a recording contract with BMG records. There's a budget attached to their project. They themselves would probably get a portion of that budget (I'm guessing in the range of $100,000). When the finalists tour they do get paid, but I have no idea what.
Rochester, MI: How do we know that the results are not rigged? Ryan Seacrest will tell us tonight that 100,000,000 people voted, but they never tell you what % of the vots that Ruben,Clay or Kimberley recieved. I really don't think any of them can be an Idol like Kelly Clarkston. I do think that Ruben and Clay could have careers in Gospel/R&b and Broadway for Clay. Kimberly, will simply fade away by end of summer.
Tom Vickers: There is no way to tell from the way the show is set up just how accurate the vote counts are.
Nashville, TN: With all of these reality shows making stars out of every day people, (including the losers) what is this saying about the entertainment industry? I'm a music business major at Belmont University and have been able to interact with the Nashville music scene on a professional label. I'm paying my dues and learning the ropes. So, is it going to come down to people who actually go to school and learn about the business being in charge of these folks that walk right into fame? And truthfully, there's not a single reality show winner (America Idol, Nashville Star. . ) that I would ever buy an album from. What's your take on where this is going, and if it's just a fad or if it's the new road for the entertainment industry.
Tom Vickers: I feel it's more a fad than the road the industry is going to take. Even though the show is enormously popular, not every artist is going to take the American Idol route. There are always going to be artists that don't fit the American Idol pigeonhole concept of who is talented. As a result there will always be room for innovative, creative artists who are ahead of the mainstream.