The Man Who Will Make 'American Idol' Sing Again

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Could Jimmy Iovine be the next Simon Cowell?

A pop music king-maker, Iovine is the chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records. He’ll be the “in-house” mentor for American Idol’s aspiring superstars, effectively ending the rotating mentor program that has seen everyone from Harry Connick, Jr., to Miley Cyrus and Jamie Foxx (whose sketch comedy show is set to bow on Fox at midseason) putting contestants through their musical paces.

“I think Jimmy Iovine will play a very important role,” Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment at Fox, said during an interview Wednesday.

“I think he’ll be incredibly tough.”

Like Cowell?

In January, the show will kick off its tenth season without its lynchpin: the acerbic, brutal but always spot-on Cowell. And Rice admitted that when the search for new judges began, even they were preoccupied with minting a new Simon.

“We spent most of the summer deciding, was there a single person who could be a Simon Cowell replacement,” notes Rice. “And we ultimately decided that that would be foolhardy of us. No one can be Simon. Simon is a very particular, incredible television personality.”

If so much of Idol’s appeal was watching the contestants try - and try again - to win over Cowell, there was admittedly less at stake when Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul or Kara DioGuardi or Ellen DeGeneres - especially poor, miscast DeGeneres - critiqued the singers.

Rice and Idol producers are certainly hopeful that new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler can bring a little creative tension.

“We think that Jennifer and Steven will bring excitement to the show and change the focus,” says Rice.

But if Cowell is irreplaceable, the new focus will be on the music and the care and feeding of the contestants. And here, Idol producers and Fox executives are taking a page from Glee, a cultural phenomenon that has spawned millions of iTunes downloads. And in doing so, they also may be making Iovine the most important member of the Idol cast since, yes, Simon Cowell.

Iovine comes with a platinum musical pedigree and the muscle of a recording empire built over 20 years of collaborations with a who’s who of pop stars: Eminem, Lady Gaga, Dr. Dre, U2, Sheryl Crow, The Black Eyed Peas, Mary J. Blige, Nelly Furtado, No Doubt, 50 Cent.

Iovine’s Interscope Geffen A&M will market, promote and distribute the music of American Idol finalists and winners.

“The winners, the ones with the most talent, are going to be signed to his label for a very long time,” says Rice. “In the same way that he’s had a relationship with Bono or Bruce Springsteen or Lady Gaga or Eminem for many years.”

“That journey that [the contestants] go on is going to be a very new part of the show. What I’m hoping we can do with the music is make it more immediately culturally relevant. There were five songs on Glee last night. All five of them are in the top ten on iTunes today. I want to see that come back to Idol next year.”

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