Kara DioGuardi on Platinum Hit's Bad Singing Problem, Plans for More Post-Idol TV
Jewel, Kara DioGuardi
So far, watching Bravo's songwriting competition Platinum Hit hasn't been easy on the ears — and judge Kara DioGuardi knows it.
Sure, viewers sit through season after season of God-awful warbling on DioGuardi's old show American Idol, but on Platinum Hit, contestants are not only shaky singers, they're all performing their own half-baked, unproven material. In the first episode, one hopeful, Sonyae, screamed her hook for an original song about Los Angeles — refrain: "LOVE IT OR HATE IT! LOVE IT OR HATE IT! LOVE IT OR HATE IT I LOVE LAAAAA!" -- and it was pretty much a train wreck until DioGuardi named it the challenge winner!
"When I saw it as a viewer, I thought, 'Oh yeah, people are going to think we're out of our minds,'" DioGuardi says. "But if I sing the song like this [sings it, softly, with more of a rock vibe], it's different. You know what I mean?"
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Well, when you put it that way! But will viewers be able to get through the bad singing? Can they suss out a good song if their ears are bleeding? DioGuardi talked to TVGuide.com about the show's chances with audiences, why doing Idol make her feel like a librarian, and why she may be doing another — more personal show — for Bravo.
Listening to the contestants perform, in most cases, has been difficult. How do we get past it? I was floored by your initial positive reaction to Sonyae's yell-fest "Love It or Hate It."
Kara DioGuardi: Well, OK, but when I sang it, I felt like you could understand it. She was going [yells] "LOVE IT OR HATE IT" — but the whole point of the show is being able to hear through that.
That was one of the only hooks I remembered from that challenge. [Sings "love it or hate it" like an artist such as Kelly Clarkson might.] At least Sonyae was saying something that was relevant. A lot of people walk around and say they either love L.A. or they hate it. You're either this or you're that. At least it was a universal thing, whereas some of the others were like, "LAAAA, I grab my coffee and I..." and it's like, oh, Jesus, no one is going to listen to that. So yeah, while she was screaming it — and that was annoying — when I sung it in my head, I could hear someone doing it for sure.
But do you think viewers are processing the songs the way you do? Episode 2's focus on dance songs, where vocals barely matter, helped.
DioGuardi: It's probably a struggle. But I think what [the judges] say will start to maybe color your judgment. You'll start to listen to songs and realize that... Let me put it this way: It's kind of like training your ears. Sometimes, you'll hear a contestant and think, "Wow, that person has a great voice," and then we'll say, "But that's not a great song."
We're looking for more than just a great presentation. Certain singers can sing the alphabet and make it sound good, but the public is not that stupid once it gets on the radio. A great singer can't disguise a bad song.
What were your first thoughts about doing a competition show for songwriters?
DioGuardi: I thought, "Is this going to be boring? Is it going to be like watching paint dry?" It was only when the producers explained the way they were going to do it that I thought, alright, that's interesting. You're going to force people who don't know each other to work together. It's going to be a lot of conflict.
Are the challenges set up in a way that's mostly true to life? Collaborating with strangers, writing in different genres...
DioGuardi: Very, very true to life. I've written so many songs with people I never knew until I walked into the room. I think they're doing a really good job of it. I like that they're actually showing a bit of the process, how the writers have to negotiate with each other. It's difficult when you're in a room with people and you want to do something one way and they're like, "No, I want to do it this way." You get into this back-and-forth banter and you have to come to a common place.
Also, the time constraints are real! I wrote "Undo It" and "Mama's Song" for Carrie Underwood — I had never even met her — and we wrote them in five hours. When I wrote "Good Girls Go Bad" with Cobra Starship? I didn't know Gabe. I met him right before an Idol show, and I had three hours. So, it's very much like the business. You have artists in and out of cities, they have five hours here, three hours there, on a tour bus, in a hotel room, and you better come and deliver.
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How do you think the contestants are doing so far?
DioGuardi: It's interesting to watch how they all think they've written the biggest songs ever in the beginning [laughs]. As the show goes on, we start to break them down to really show them what it takes to write a hit song.
So you do whip them into shape soon.
DioGuardi: Yeah, we do! I mean, the first day it was like we were literally figuring out the show as we went along. It's going to take maybe one more episode to start to see and understand these songwriters -- why they're there and what their lives are and how that translates into their music. Then it becomes more interesting.
But it does take a minute. And it's a niche show. It's for people who are interested in the process of songwriting. It's a totally different thing. You're not listening to their voices here.
Why did you decide to do another show after Idol? It looked as though that experience had shaken you. Or maybe not.
DioGuardi: Oh, it had. It had shaken me in the first season. By the second season I was more comfortable with it. But this was such a big difference from Idol in that a friend of mine is producing it and created it. It was six weeks to shoot. It was a look into a process that I think most people didn't even know existed.
I also liked the idea that this was taped. I didn't have that pressure of a live show. I could actually mentor. That was something I really missed on Idol, that I felt I started to do in the last season. It would have been better for me to be a mentor than a judge. I can tell you what's right or wrong, but I'd actually like to help you fix it. It's what I do every day. Platinum Hit is my life. I listen to songs all day long, hundreds of songs a week, and critique them.
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You do seem more in your element, which is to say, all business.
DioGuardi: Totally. And that's more my vibe. I'm definitely more of a New Yorker. I'm pretty straight-up and I felt on Idol I always had this persona of a librarian-meets-I-don't-know-what, like hair-in-a-bun-with-a-suit. It just wasn't me. I was trying to be the "industry expert," which is... I mean, I am an expert at what I do, but at times, the presentation of it, I didn't feel like there was room for me to be the tough-talking New Yorker that I am. I just couldn't imagine what a family show on Fox was going to do with a girl who kind of has a truck driver mouth and is a little bit abrupt.
Bravo just announced you might even do a second reality show with the network, one that would be more personal. Has that always been in the back of your mind?
DioGuardi: Well, we're developing it... It would have a personal element to it, but it would be a really inside look at the music industry in a way that it's never been seen. Like inside the studios, inside the business aspects of it, the drama of it.
I think if we were to do something, you'd see me in all facets of my personality. What you have now is this tough judge thing, but the judge role is a weird role! It pulls on one side of your personality. If you saw me in the studio, I'm comfy! I have other sides that have never been seen. As a creative person, in that judge role, it's constraining.
Am I ready for to show all of it? That's a whole other thing.
Platinum Hit airs Mondays at 10/9c on Bravo.