IDOL ban­ter

Aus­tralian Idol has played mu­si­cal chairs and had a good hard look at it­self, writes sur­viv­ing judge Ian ‘‘Dicko’’ Dick­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story - with SIOB­HAN DUCK

THIS year we’ve made some big changes. We’re get­ting away from the loonies, the rit­ual hu­mil­i­a­tion and the bick­er­ing mid­dle-aged judg­ing panel and re­ally high­light­ing what the show should be about — as­pi­ra­tional Aus­tralians who want a crack at the mu­sic in­dus­try.

The fact is, in this busi­ness, you have to con­stantly re­assess your strengths and weak­nesses. For­mats get old. They need re­fresh­ing.

I think Idol had be­come a vic­tim of its own ef­fi­ciency last year. It was so well-run that if any­thing hap­pened that would jeop­ar­dise its smooth run­ning, it was im­me­di­ately bat­ted away, quashed or killed. It’s sup­posed to be a re­al­ity show and we need­lessly ig­nored some pretty in­ter­est­ing sto­ries.

There was a story about Hill­song ma­nip­u­lat­ing the vote. As far as I’m con­cerned, as a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, if I could gal­vanise 30,000 young Chris­tians to buy an album in a sin­gle week, I’d use that. It’s a valid thing to do. I don’t know why we’d hide from a story like that.

But we’ve made the hard changes and we’ve taken a long, hard look in the mir­ror and Aus­tralian Idol will be a bet­ter show for it.

Mon­day’s re­sults show will be com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery­one jus­ti­fi­ably got the s---s with it last year be­cause it was ef­fec­tively 55 min­utes of television for five min­utes of con­tent. That’s an aw­ful lot of pad­ding. It was an aw­ful show to be part of so I’m sure it was an aw­ful show to watch. This year we’re all on the same page and it’s go­ing to be a grip­ping part of the con­test. We’ve stripped back the au­di­tion shows. I know peo­ple love the loonies, the cra­zies and the de­luded goonies, but we’ll be into what is the heart­beat of the show — real con­tenders per­form­ing in front of a real live au­di­ence — within a week. It’s go­ing to be all about the tal­ent. The judges get more than enough cam­era time. We need to be present but not as over­bear­ing as in the past. Peo­ple say they love to see the biff be­tween the judges, but ul­ti­mately that can turn into a crazy pan­tomime.

The judg­ing panel was a fairly un­wieldy, four-headed beast that be­came an un­ruly facet of the show. That’s been turned around be­cause there are only three of us now.

I had a meet­ing with Fre­mantleMe­dia, the pro­duc­ers of the show, ear­lier in the year and was told I’d be com­ing back. I was also told, in no un­cer­tain terms, that they had looked at re­plac­ing ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one on the judg­ing panel, which I think is smart. I re­ally do. If you value your busi­ness, value a brand, you have to con­stantly au­dit it to make sure it’s rel­e­vant.

And the mar­ket has moved on. The pub­lic have been al­lowed to get used to a whiff of blood in their nos­trils. They’ve be­come a lit­tle blase´ about mo­ments of rit­ual hu­mil­i­a­tion. It would be wrong to imag­ine that all you can do is be­come cru­eller or more de­vi­ous. That’s not what the show is about.

AND so, there are now three judges this year. Mark’s gone. How do I feel about that? Well, mixed feel­ings. He’s not al­ways the eas­i­est per­son to work with at such close quar­ters. I found him a bit of a dis­trac­tion at times. How­ever, there have been times on this au­di­tion tour where we’ve all looked down the end of the ta­ble where Mark wasn’t and thought, ‘‘Oh no! He’s not there to give us some of his moon-man lu­nacy’’.

And we’ll miss him in the live stu­dio shows when some­one gives us a stel­lar per­for­mance and there is no ‘‘touch­down’’. I think it’d be aw­ful to try to man­u­fac­ture some­thing out of thin air to re­place it. For what­ever it was, the touch­down was Mark’s and to trans­plant some­thing else in there would be id­i­otic and I don’t think the pub­lic would wear it.

Mark was a vic­tim of his own work ethic in many ways. He un­der­stood, more than any­one, that Idol needed big TV mo­ments. At times he over­played that and be­came a bit of a car­i­ca­ture. Mark flip-flops be­tween be­ing a happy-go-lucky guy and some­one who feels down on life. When he’s in those black moods, Mark can be quite a dark per­son to have around.

Last year we had to deal with quite a few harsh re­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing the fact Chan­nel 7 was throw­ing Kath & Kim up against us. It’s an en­ter­tain­ment su­per­brand in Aus­tralia, pulling 2.5 mil­lion view­ers in our slot, a slot that we’d made our own and dom­i­nated for a few years. That’s hard to strate­gise against.

At some point you have to ac­cept that maybe we’re fish­ing in a smaller pond. Idol still does good busi­ness for Ten but it was a bit of a shock. Mark used to get a lit­tle dark about that, when what was needed was a calm head. Maybe that’s a rea­son he was the one to go — he was a lit­tle too high-main­te­nance at times.

Why Mark and not us? Hon­estly, Mar­cia is re­ally im­por­tant to the show. When it gets a lit­tle bit feisty with the guys and a con­tes­tant is all at sea and dev­as­tated, Mar­cia is the life raft of nour­ish­ment and sup­port. She was al­ways go­ing to be pretty safe.

OF THE three re­main­ing judges, I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence from a record­com­pany point of view. It’s still sec­ond na­ture to me whether some­one is go­ing to be com­mer­cially vi­able or not. The show does live and breathe on that. It needs some­one who can present the cold com­mer­cial facts.

So it was down to Kyle and Mark. And with Kyle be­ing so firmly en­trenched with Ten do­ing Big Brother and hav­ing the big­gest break­fast

show in the coun­try, I’m afraid Mark was with­out a seat when we played mu­si­cal chairs.

I think he was hurt by the de­ci­sion and had ev­ery right to be. I feel a bit self-con­scious I’m still here be­cause I was dis­loyal. I left for more money. I left be­cause I be­lieved my own hype. I thought I had more to of­fer. I was wrong.

I was left in a po­si­tion where nei­ther Seven nor my lot (man­age­ment) could find a show for me that was go­ing to work on that net­work and I was very for­tu­nate that Ten in­vited me back.

But it doesn’t make me feel great about the fact Mark’s loy­alty was re­warded with be­ing axed from the show. I know we have to be adult about this and ac­cept that it is a busi­ness and that at any given mo­ment some­body is go­ing to make a de­ci­sion based on its best in­ter­est.

I’d have to say we (Dick­son and Holden) are not friends any more, which is a shame. I said some pretty hurt­ful things when he left. (Dick­son had said: ‘‘I’m thrilled to be not hav­ing his stupid orange face butting in all the time. I don’t give a s--- what he thinks. He’s off the show now’’). The truth is I was quoted from an in­ter­view that I should never have done. I had been out on a long, p---y lunch and I was drunk.

Now we’re go­ing up against Danc­ing with the Stars— an en­ter­tain­ment jug­ger­naut. They have a fan­tas­tic new host in Daniel MacPher­son. He’s a ter­rific en­ter­tainer and it’s a great show. I’m a fan. But it may be stretch­ing the cast this year. There’s about five big hit­ters, the rest are hardly house­hold names.

And to take an in­sti­tu­tion like DWTS out of its Tues­day times­lot just to de­rail Idol is flat­ter­ing. They ob­vi­ously still see us as a po­tent force. We aim to prove that is the case.

I’d love to think in five years’ time that we’re still sit­ting here talk­ing about what a piv­otal year 2008 was and how we ploughed ahead and sta­bilised the ship. But who would know, we live in a fairly un­sen­ti­men­tal en­vi­ron­ment th­ese days. TV has its own cruel logic.

There’s no sen­ti­men­tal­ity with TV ex­ec­u­tives. If some­thing’s not work­ing it’s axed— some­times mid-se­ries— so I don’t think we’re a pro­tected species.

THERE’S noth­ing re­ally like Idol. Young, as­pi­ra­tional peo­ple get­ting up try­ing their best to en­ter­tain Aus­tralia ev­ery week. So You Think You Can Dance was fab­u­lous, but who of us knows whether their crump­ing was spot-on or whether a fox­trot was well han­dled or a freestyle jazz dance was any good? That’s all re­ally tech­ni­cal.

But most peo­ple will know whether they like their (Idol con­tes­tant) ver­sion of a hit song like I Be­lieve I Can Fly or a Bea­tles tune. Most of us have a con­text for that. It’s some­thing ev­ery viewer, whether they are eight or 80, can re­late to.

Man with a plan: Ian Dick­son be­lieves Aus­tralian Idol be­came a vic­tim of its own ef­fi­ciency last year.


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