Randy Jackson Doesn't Mince Words When Explaining His Problem With ABC's American Idol And NBC's The Voice

Singing competitions wouldn’t be the phenomenon they are today without the three judges who sat behind the table for the original run of American Idol back in 2002. Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell introduced the world to a 20-year-old singer from Texas named Kelly Clarkson, and the lyrics she belted A Moment Like This might as well have been about the show itself. Twenty years (and seasons) later, Idol is still going strong, but the ABC show has changed, Jackson said, and not necessarily for the better. NBC’s The Voice suffers from the same problem of being “too nice,” the famed music producer said, and he had strong opinions about how it happened and why it’s a problem.

Back in its early seasons, nobody ever accused the American Idol judges panel of being too nice. Paula Abdul was gracious with her praise, but she served to balance out Simon Cowell’s unfiltered critiques and Randy Jackson’s occasional bluntness. Jackson spoke with Yahoo! and explained why he thinks all of the sugarcoating that happens on Idol and its NBC competitor these days is actually counterproductive to the artists’ journeys:

Now I think they're all too nice. This is a tough, hard, mean, give-zero-Fs business. Being honest with someone — if you're terrible, you're terrible. Wouldn't you want to know that? Maybe me saying you're terrible is going to help you get your thing together. Maybe you're gonna go back to the drawing board, like, ‘No, I'm gonna defeat the Dawg! I'm coming back. I'm coming back to get you, Dawg!’

Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol for 12 seasons, and he knows that lying to a singer about their talent is only a waste of his time and theirs. He also pointed out that rejection can be a motivator. Nobody learns anything if they’re not given honest feedback. That’s where he says he has an issue with today’s singing competitions:

One of the things I don't like today is there’s very little truth being told on these shows. I say all the time in interviews, the thing that helped me the most [when I was starting out] was the no’s — the people that didn't like me, didn't like my playing, didn't like my songwriting, didn't like my producing. That's what made me work and try harder. … The competition and the challenge helps us get better — not the yeses, not the ‘You’re lovely, but not today.’ That doesn't do anything for anyone.

So how did we get here? Randy Jackson said he thinks the shift happened when the reality competition series started replacing industry insiders with singers on the judges panel. Jackson and Simon Cowell, for instance, worked a lot behind the scenes, finding and developing talent. Their job was to be honest, not to remain likable and empathize with the contestants. The Voice took it a step further when it premiered in 2011, and didn’t appoint judges at all. They instead filled their superstar panel with “coaches.” 

The former America's Best Dance Crew producer said he and Simon Cowell were never afraid to dish out harsh criticism, because they didn’t care about being liked. Yet he believes the judges/coaches today want and need to be accepted by contestants and the audience:

The problem with that is, no pop star wants to be mean or wants to be that honest with any contestant... because they don't probably want to get it back. They don't want to get it back. And they want to be liked.

Even more with The Voice, which pits the coaches like Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson against each other, the mentors need to remain likable in order to win votes from the audience. In the earlier seasons coaches like Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera often gave harsher feedback, but its panel — most recently consisting of Shelton, Clarkson, John Legend and Ariana Grande — these days rarely gives anything other than very positive constructive criticism. 

The current judges on American Idol — Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie — may not be going head-to-head, but they still need their audience to buy their music and attend their concerts, so could that possibly play into what they tell (or refrain from telling) the contestants? 

Regardless of how the shows have changed, the singing competition shows remain popular with their audiences. You can catch Season 20 of American Idol currently airing on ABC on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. EST. The Voice is set to return for Season 22 this fall on NBC. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what other premieres are coming soon.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.