American Idol

When my agent, Alix Hartley first called me about American Idol, she was quite excited about it – she had been a key player in getting it sold.  She told me what a huge success it had been in the UK and sent over some DVDs to review and a massive press book.  I popped in a few DVDs  and instantly reached the conclusion that this show was bound to fail.   First of all the singers were a bunch of unattractive people from small towns in the north of England with incomprehensible accents, shot on location and they were awful.  The next DVD had some performers singing a cappella in a small nondescript studio and they weren’t great either.  The voting was live and the results would be announced later that evening in a short segment. Another DVD has the contestants on a bigger set singing to tracks.

I told Alix that this might work in England but in the US audiences were not going to stick with a program that kept changing its format, the live voting couldn’t work with three time zones and that Fox’s plan to devote a whole half hour to the results couldn’t succeed. Plus, most of the singers wouldn’t be good and who wants to watch bad singers. She urged me not to pass – they really wanted me to do it and were offering a five year contract.  I reluctantly agreed to sign on for one season only.  How wrong can you be?


American Idol: Kelly Clarkson: “Respect”

Here is one of the best performances from Season 1, Kelly Clarkson doing Aretha’s “Respect” – a song most often, best not attempted. Kelly blows it away and shows a soulful R&B side to her vocals that we hadn’t seen before.


American Idol: Usher Performs “Let Me Love You Down” featuring WILL.I.AM:

It’s always difficult to do justice to a dance routine fronted by a star — If you go with the closeup, you lose the choreography…if you stay too wide to see the choreography you lose the closeup, and the connection with the star. So, after seeing this routine, I thought why not combine three images together? The wide shot of the dancing, a close-up of Usher and a head-to-toe of Usher to show off his dancing talent, his singing and the routine. Being that this was shot for an American Idol Results show, with only minimal rehearsal time, I had to execute this on the fly, live.


American Idol: Crystal and Lee Perform: “Falling Slowly”

I used the Steadicam a lot on Idol performances and never wanted to overdo it. But, after watching Crystal and Lee rehearse this duet and seeing the way they performed the song, looking into each others eyes, I wanted to capture that intimacy and I thought, here is one performance that just doesn’t need a camera cut. I decided to use one shot for the whole song and put a two shot of them on the big screen behind — Figure out why you don’t see the cameraman walking through the two shot.

In rehearsal, we blocked out the basics of the Steadicam moves — really just following the vocal parts and giving both kids equal coverage when they sang together, as this was for a competition show. Dave Eastwood was the camera operator and as always, he was brilliant.

American Idol: Fantasia Performing “Summertime”

While we were in rehearsal, doing the sound check, Fantasia just happened to sit on the floor. I thought it looked so good, I said to her, “Let’s do it for the show this way” and she agreed. She showed a softer side of herself in the pretty pink dress, sitting vulnerably on the floor and sang it so well that it became a signature moment for her. She loved the way it turned out and in Fantasia’s stage act she still performs “Summertime” sitting on the floor.


American Idol: Lady Gaga Performs “Alejandro”

Lady Gaga came with dancers, trees, smoke and fog machines, and a blood-spurting fountain. No way to get all that set up on a commercial break during a Live Results Show. So, after shooting a show with live performances, we stayed to tackle it as a pre-tape. It took hours to get it all set and working. It was getting late and we had an early call for the next day. The pressure was on, we were already well into meal penalties and the short turnaround was looming. I was asked to shoot it in 15 minutes.

I shot only two takes -– used all my cameras and did a line cut and one more go with just the Steadicam on Gaga. Dropped in some of the Steadi shots into my line cut in editing and, voila. I was really happy with the result, as was the Gaga contingent.

Next thing I know, I’m told I have to do a re-cut -– standards and practices were convinced they were seeing the edges of her nipples through her black lace body suit, as well as too much butt. I was to go in and make the number nipple and butt-free and since the track was quite long -– six minutes or so, cut it down in time as well, to 4 minutes 30 seconds. For the life of me, I don’t know why this wasn’t addressed up front as the Gaga people thought they were getting the full performance and everyone who was important had shown up for the pre-tape and had seen the outfit.

I did the re-cuts under protest, as I could see she was wearing a full nude-colored body suit under the lace outfit and even in freeze frames I couldn’t find the offending nipples, and I cut it to the required time. I asked the producers to make sure that her team knew that the version that was going to air wasn’t what they were expecting. That call never happened and the Gaga team was seriously pissed. All that said, I still like the number a lot.