Kara DioGuardi — here comes the new ‘American Idol’ judge

New 'American Idol' judge Kara DioGuardi will join Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson for the show's eighth season. Photo courtesy of Fox.

New 'American Idol' judge Kara DioGuardi will join Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson for the show's eighth season. Photo courtesy of Fox.

Don’t miss: Former American Idol contestant Phil Stacey is blogging for LexGo.com. Also, take a look back at our video and story from the Louisville auditions, and watch Sunday for our Idol preview in the Herald-Leader and at LexGo.com.

We’ll have to wait until May to find out who the new American Idol is, and hopefully just as long to find out if the winner is a Kentuckian from the Louisville auditions. Hey, we’re already the home state of several American Idols, including Rosemary Clooney, Loretta Lynn and the Judds — they just didn’t get the formal title.

But the question that will start being answered this week is how new judge Kara DioGuardi, 38, works into the Randy-Paula-Simon mix. The Duke University alum (pre-law) already has a distinguished resume as a songwriter for many chart toppers, including Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood (she says she really wants to work with Daughtry). Thursday, fresh from a recording session with Colby Caillat, she got on the phone with the press for a conference call. We didn’t get to ask her about Louisville, but she did talk a bit about how she’s working into the show and her judging approach.

On what she brings to the show that wasn’t there before:

What’s really unique about me is that I’ve worked with a lot of the singers that are out there, that are great, from Christina (Aguilera) to Pink to Celine Dion. I’ve been in the studio with them when they’ve actually recorded songs that we’ve co-written and I’ve worked very closely with them in both listening to how they interpret the songs that we’ve written and given them guidance and support. I think that distinguishes me.

There are times that definitely Paula and I, you know — I guess everyone’s seen that bikini promo, where we kind of side against the guys. They’re maybe looking at the girls or whatever, and they want to put someone through and we’re just like, forget it. So there’s a little girl power going on. And also, it’s a change. With any kind of change, it brings out a different dynamic on the panel. In the beginning, it was a little unnerving because I didn’t know where I was going to sit, I didn’t know when I was going to speak . . .

I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes in the beginning, which is really not my personality. I usually just from the get go say what I feel and do what I want, not in an abusive way, but that’s just sort of the way I am. I’m opinionated. In the beginning I was just a little bit like, “Oh my God, there are all these cameras, all these people, what’s going on here?” And Paula turned to me and said, “Um, are you going to be you?” Kind of like that and I got the message. It was back to my old ways.

The American Idol judges at Churchill Downs in September: Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Photo by Michael Becker | Fox.

The American Idol judges at Louisville's Churchill Downs in September: Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Photo by Michael Becker | Fox.

Her description of the other judges:

Paula has a lot of heart. Simon pretty much tells it like it is. Sometimes he can be pretty harsh, but he’s usually right, and Randy’s just, he’s the diplomat.

. . . and herself:

I think I have a combination of all of them. I do like to say it like I see it. I don’t really mince words, but I do feel I have a heart, and when you’re dealing with creative people that have some talent, you want to make sure that you encourage them. But also, if they don’t have any talent, you want to discourage them, because you don’t want them to waste their time.

So, I may say things that are negative, but I always try to do it with some heart, and some understanding of what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.

. . . I was told I wasn’t a good songwriter; I wasn’t a good singer, for years. And it was my dream and I kept going and going and going. So, if you’ve got some talent nobody can tell you that you can’t develop that into something if you work hard enough. And I don’t want some kids to have at least something going on to feel crushed and not follow their dream if they have some ability.

Who she agrees with most:

There’ve been times I agreed and disagreed with all of them. It’s hard to really say. You have to take situation by situation and city by city. I can definitely see where Simon’s coming from sometimes. I may not have said it they way he said it. But I also do believe in second chances early on. I know that if I hadn’t had a second chance a lot of times, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I definitely grew as an artist and a songwriter. Sometimes you see potential in people, and you have to think past the mistakes maybe they made because they were nervous or whatever.

So, do the judges hang out together?:

You know, there were a few nights that Randy, I think one night in particular, Randy, Ryan, Paula and I had dinner and I do see Paula probably more than the other guys. But, yeah, we definitely hang out during lunch, we talk. It’s very pleasant. There was never any weirdness. Again, they were very accepting of me.

On Simon being the tie-breaker in 2-2 ties:

For me, the thing that would happen is that the two of them (Randy and Paula, apparently) would say yes at times, or let’s say a few times this would happen where they would say yes, and then it would come down to me because I knew he would say no, probably. So I had to make that critical decision there, whether I was going to give them another shot or not. That was tough, because you’re dealing with people you’ve met after a few seconds of hearing them sing, and you’re not sure if they had a bad audition or you want to give them another shot, so I was put in that position a bunch of times.

At times I can, any of us can put through that contestant, if we know where he’s going to go. Sometimes, we think we know, and we know that if we say no, this kid may not get through . . . When you’re on the fence sometimes, you go, “Alright, I’ll give that person another chance,” which at times I did, when I’d say, “I’m not sure about you, there’s something there. I’m not 100 percent. I’ll give you another shot.”

On this season’s field of hopefuls:

Looking at all the contestants on a whole, I felt that the males were the strongest. That being said, there’s one or two females that I’m excited about as well. I’m really just waiting for the show to roll out and the next phase to see who’s going to end up on top. I would say there’s a uniqueness to some of the male contestants that’s different in terms of the voices and the songs they were picking and the general direction of what their record would be . . . The men in the competition, there’s about five to 10, at least five that are great.

There were a lot of people doing country, there were a lot of people doing rock. There was a lot of soul influence, especially with these male contestants, where there was a soulfulness in their voice, and it’s not even R&B, like I’m talking about the way Maroon 5 is soulful. So that was different.

On contestants playing instruments:

I love when people play instruments. It just adds another component to their artistry, and it kind of shows another side of them as a performer, so I encourage that.

On what she hopes to gain from Idol:

You know, I never in a million years imagined that I would be a judge on American Idol. So, when I got that call it was really an honor and in some ways I felt like I hit the lottery and I didn’t even really think about what is this going to mean? I just said, “Yeah, I’ll do this, of course.” I mean I’ve been involved in so many of these kids’ careers and this is what I do every day. I look out for talent. I help them in the studio. I produce them. That’s my life. I live for that and it just felt like a natural extension. That’s it on television and the biggest TV show with so many viewers, wow. I don’t know what to say about that. It was an honor to be called and I’m looking forward to making this year as great as it can be and finding the best talent out there and giving my spin on why I think they’re great or why they’re not.

This is an edited transcript of the press conference.

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