American Idol Creator Has Even Bigger Things In Mind

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Simon Fuller
The mogul is scheming.

His groundbreaking project is the behemoth that has come to rule not only television, but also much of the entertainment landscape.

But if you thought Simon Fuller, the British creator of American Idol, would be sitting back by now celebrating his success, think again.

"I'm hungry," he tells the Los Angeles Times, and presumably he's talking about more than lunch.

Next item on Simon's agenda is taking the unscripted talent show to even greater heights, this time starting a songwriting competition that will be incorporated into the show and produce a song that will be sung by the next American Idol.

After that, he plans to revolutionize the entertainment arena further using his production company, 19 Entertainment, and other partnerships. He wants to start using unique strategies that, in his estimation, will change the way talent is developed and exposed.

Even by the lofty standards of the unassuming, soft-spoken Fuller, 46, who first came to prominence as the marketing and creative force behind the Spice Girls, it has been a crazy year for him and his production company.

Already a cultural phenomenon, American Idol is spawning a domino effect in which its alumni are now regularly appearing in theater, summer concerts and even making trips to the White House. The series finale scored 36.3 million viewers, and the show received eight Emmy nominations.

Former Idols like Kelly Clarkson (Season One) and Carrie Underwood (Season Four) have been transformed into bona-fide pop and country hit-makers. Lifetime will soon air a TV movie based on the life of Season Three American Idol winner, single mother and inspiring rags-to-riches story, Fantasia Barrino.

Auditions for Season 6 start Tuesday, and predictions are for yet another massive crowd of wannabes -- not to mention massive ratings.

Then there's So You Think You Can Dance, which Fuller co-created with 19 executive Nigel Lythgoe. It's become the surprise, top-rated summer show among the coveted 18-49 demographic, and Fox just renewed the series for a third season weeks before the season finale, which airs August 16.

Nothing has dulled Fuller's infectious optimism -- not the plethora of Idol knockoffs, not the good-natured competition with friend and American Idol judge Simon Cowell's summer hit, America's Got Talent, not even the slight by Clarkson in her Grammy thank-yous.


Fuller is now looking toward the future.

He is no longer knocking on studio and network doors —- the executives are now knocking on his door. Among his plans is a fashion channel, and he has project deals with HBO and NBC. And, in partnership with CKX Investors, he has embarked on new creative endeavors.

Fuller says he wants to develop blossoming artists who might meet obstacles financially, stylistically or otherwise in breaking through mainstream standards. Just as Idol does with novice singers, the goal is to empower all kinds of performers and push boundaries.

"What drives me is moving forward. That is what my brain is focused on. What really excites me is fulfilling my vision. I now have the resources to do everything I want to do," Fuller said.

But first things first.

He's ecstatic over a new American Idol twist that will add an intriguing element to the series competition, but also help solve a problem that has plagued the competition since its 2002 debut.

In previous years, producers and songwriters have been hired to write an original song for each of the two finalists, but uncertainty over who the finalists would be, as well as their respective singing styles, has meant less-than-perfect matches.

"It's a thankless task," Fuller said.

So Fuller, ever the innovator, has devised a way to jump over that hurdle this season by having producers institute a songwriting contest that will run parallel to the singing competition. Anyone can compete to write the tune that will be sung by the two finalists, broadening the choices for possible finale songs and bringing in a whole new competition for fans to follow.

The strategy fits in with Fuller's knack of taking deceptively simple ideas and turning them into valuable properties.

"It's the simplicity that makes it powerful," he said.


Fuller admitted that even he is blown away by the show's momentum, calling it all the things you hope, but dare not wish for. Controversies that would have put a cloud over most TV shows, such as cast feuds, rumors surrounding judge Paula Abdul, and legal skirmishes between Fuller and Cowell, have only thrown gasoline on the American Idol fire.

When explaining what sets American Idol apart from its imitators, Fuller flashed a wry smile.

"It's a combination of several different elements. But it all really comes down to the voting. When the viewer votes, it matters. Someone who is just ordinary one day can become the next superstar. Just look at what Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken did, what Carrie is doing. It's that empowering of America," he said.

Mike Darnell, Executive Vice President of Alternative Programming and specials for Fox, called Fuller a genius for coming up with a show that other networks call "the tsunami, the tidal wave. It just can't be stopped."

Fuller is jubilant over the commercial prowess of Clarkson, the inaugural Idol, despite a mini-controversy involving the singer, who thanked nearly everyone she had ever come in contact with after winning a pair of Grammys this winter, with the notable exception of Fuller and American Idol. But the creator said he never felt slighted by Clarkson.

"That was her huge moment. I didn't even notice that she didn't mention me -- other people did. She wants to be recognized for her talents. And her win proved to me that America recognized her as a fantastic talent."

And while Clarkson is no longer managed by Fuller, she is still under contract to 19 Entertainment, which was involved heavily with her smash sophomore album Breakaway, he still applauds her for seeking management that she is happy with.

Besides, Fuller has too many other projects to keep focusing on the past.

"There's not an hour of the day when I'm not thinking of things that I want to do. And everything seems possible now," he said.

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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