During a recent conference call, Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer of "American Idol," couldn't shake questions about Top 24 contestant Carly Smithson (pictured) and the fact that she's "been around" when it comes to performing. Lythgoe continued to set the record straight beyond what he said in today's Scene story.
Q: Carly signed a major label deal, it was marketed, but she was a washout. How will that impact her relationship with voters?
A: I don't know what the angle is. All we're saying is she's very talented, and she hasn't broken any rules. We've never not shown their (contestants) past when we can. And there's nothing wrong with saying she had a record deal and it didn't work.
Q: Why was so much airtime devoted to Josiah Leming (the teen living in his car), and why didn't he make the Top 24?
A: We felt he was a major story. As to why he didn't get through, I don't get in their (judges') heads. I don't think his voice was as strong compared to the others. His voice itself was strange. He turned into an Englishman when he sang. It was shaky. And I don't think he picked the right tune when he dismissed the band.
Q: What happens to someone like him?
A: I honestly don't know. When contestants leave, I would be left worrying about 100,000 of them.
Q: Does "American Idol" continue to benefit from having rockers compete? And how do you see at least two of them - Robbie Carrico and Amanda Overmyer - doing this season?
A: It's important that we have character in the music, that it's not bland. For example, if it's good country, like Bucky Covington (Season 5), that's a hook for people to latch on to. Amanda is the real deal. Ronnie might not be as strong as, say, Bo Bice (Season 4).
Q: What was the reasoning behind not doing group night during Hollywood Week?
A: We wanted to be able to hear the contestants sing on their own. We didn't want them spending the night with other contestants, haggling over song choice and choreography and then not remembering the lyrics...I think the contestants benefited because they were given a second opportunity to perform.
Q: Do the more experienced contestants, like a Carly, have an advantage?
A: Sometimes they're more at a disadvantage. But you never know who will rise or fall. Lakisha (Jones) last season started off as the one to beat. Then, we watched her pull up like a good racehorse at the end. No one had heard of Vonzell (Solomon) (Season 4), and she finished third. Jordin Sparks grew every week last year. It comes with the excitement of getting more confident. Even the pros probably have never had this kind of intense musical training and exposure. It makes - and breaks - some of them.
Q: The live results show (at 8 p.m. Thursday) has been extended to an hour. Why?
A: I never felt comfortable doing 21 minutes (the airtime on a half-hour show). The "American Idol" hour is 38 minutes. I wanted viewers to get to know the contestants better. We'll also be doing a package on "Where are they now?" to update viewers on past participants, like Kimberley Locke and Diana DeGarmo.
So, there you go. Tonight's first round features the Top 12 guys singing '60s songs. Check back here - at 21Q - for my wrap-up.