Wednesday, August 4, 2010

American Idol Signs New Deal with Universal Music Group

With all the talk about who would be on the judges' panel next year, apparently behind the scenes a much bigger change was afoot for American Idol as it goes into its ten year.  It has huge implications not only about the future of the show but for the contestants signed by now out-of-the-loop Sony -- and for Season 9 contestants not yet signed.

American Idol is first and foremost a huge commercial. Aside from the obvious corporate tie-ins, it is about building up contestants that its partner music company will then sign.  With the title and confetti and light show, it says to America -- here is a star.  Now go out and buy their record.  American Idol continues to promote those contestants in subsequent years.  The winners' faces are plastered everywhere as a constant reminder of the connection between the show and the recording artists.  Other contestants also signed by the record company are brought back during subsequent seasons to mentor or to sing -- but always as a subtle commercial.  They were on AI, now go out and buy their record. 

Yesterday it was announced that after a nine-year association with American Idol, Sony Music is out.  Universal Music Group is in as the new record company that will be signing American Idol contestants.  From a business and artistic standpoint, it makes sense.  UMG is the largest record company in the world and has an impressive roster of talent from every genre.  If AI wants to stay on top -- and fight off attack from the competing X Factor -- you should have the biggest and best in your corner.  Creatively, it could mean huge things for contestants lucky enough to be signed by UMG.  They will now have the benefit of legendary producer Jimmy Iovine who will finally give AI contestants a real chance at making quality records after they leave the show (something, that only a few of the past have been able to achieve).

But for Lee DeWyze this is not good news.   His new album will now not be promoted by American Idol.  He will likely not be coming back to perform next year.  He will probably not be mentoring any future contestants.  Lee may not even have his mug up behind the auditioning contestants, at least from here on out.  Let there be no mistake about it -- AI promotes what's best for AI.  That had been its former contestants -- especially those that had done well.  But it will no longer be in the show's financial interest to be tied to unproven prior contestants.  The AI brand, and its future contestants, will now be associated with a different record company.  There is no reason for them to promote past Sony-signed contestants.

It is unclear how this news will effect Crystal Bowersox.  It may actually be a blessing for her.  She will not be forced to appear on future shows or otherwise associate herself with AI -- and she of all the contestants seemed least happy being a big corporate trained monkey.  She will still get her record and it will fit the niche of singer-songwriter-chick nicely -- which means it won't do gang-busters but will give her a spot on any upcoming Lillith Fair tour.  She'll make enough to support her son and her subway days are over, but even better, she won't have to come back next year for a duet with Aaron Carter.

What is even more up in the air is how this news will affect Casey James and others who are either unsigned, or whose signing has not yet been announced.  On the plus side, if Sony goes ahead and signs Casey after its association with AI has been severed, it means that they want hm for what he offers as an artist and what they -- not AI -- can do with him.  It would actually make poetic sense if Casey were signed to Sony and simultaneously freed of his connection to American Idol.  He could then start on the path of developing himself as an artist in his own right.  In the same way that Chris Daughtry had more freedom courtesy of his fourth place finish, Casey could then forge his own path to do his own type of music and not what AI wanted to shoe-horn him into.

The concern, though, is that Sony won't see it like that.  They may want to wash their hands of AI altogether and simply move on and in the process pass on the one artist out of Season 9 who actually has huge potential.  I doubt this will happen because Sony, like every company, wants to make money and with Casey you have an artist who will get radio play, sell records, sell merchandise, sell concerts -- and make you money.  I've said it before, but it bears repeating -- Casey has the whole package.   Great voice, great guitar skills, great look, great musical knowledge, great cross-over appeal.  Sony is lucky they have first crack at him.  But, if they don't and Casey becomes a free agent, fear not.  Now that Casey and his music are out there, he will be signed.  It just may take a little longer.  As with all things -- time will tell.


  1. i've always had this question in mind , plz bear with me ... is it because we are huge fans of Casey we think that he's the perfect catch for any recording label?? are we biased here?? do we only see & hear what is in his favour and disregard what's not??
    I'm an international fan, and i will do whatever is needed to buy his albums whenever it's released (and let me tell you it won't be an easy task), but sometimes i need the reassurance that other people will do that too. i just want to make sure he's fine and gonna be the STAR i know he is.

  2. CD placed 4th on season 5 and was a huge success. Like it or not -- AI is in fact the biggest platform on which to succeed. American Idol can make or break you and in my opinion it doesn't really matter what major label signs you -- watched a Idol winner, speak up, question how big they, the Idol influence indeed are, and was thrown right in under the bus because of it. No radio play, no promotion, dropped, see ya. Happens all the time.
    If Casey remains professional, and concentrates on what matters to him (the music) I don't foresee any real issues for him. Having supported a Idol winner almost 5 years with no backing from the evil empire as the winner, it was my hope to get Casey to top 3. Did that.
    It's in Idols best interest to support their people, but -- it doesn't always happen.

    So, it's going to be VERY important to keep it professional, be involved with your official sites and keep your fans interested in what your there for, the music.

    American Idol is a scripted show, the reality is it isn't a reality show -- and that's just the cold hard truth. They will promote who they choose too. It's their game to play, simple as that.

  3. Shari, I don't understand all the ins and outs of record deals, but I personally would like to see Casey signed by a company NOT affiliated with Idol. The sooner Casey can disassociate himself from what is widely viewed by serious musicians as a frivolous and superfluous reality show, the better it will be for his career as a blues artist, which is what he truly is deep down in his heart and soul.

    And, just one lil correction, if you don't mind...Chris Daughtry was the Season 5 third runner-up. He finished in fourth place, not fifth, and because of that the famous "Fourth Is The New First" slogan was born!

  4. From Cyndee: Excellent article, Shari. You outline the pros and cons of Sony vs UMG very well! Sounds like Casey has a win either way, but I (for one) hope he disassociates himself with AI. They gave him an international stage on which to showcase his music (and we're all grateful for that) but unfortunately they did not really let him do exactly that. Those of us who love and respect him do so in part because of independent research such as all the Homecoming videos and fan posts. The tour is letting the 'real' Casey shine, and his following is growing. I love the comment from one journalist who said of him, "The best and most un-idol performance of the night" ...

  5. Check out this blog from former EMI exec Hans Ebert regarding the switch from Sony to Universal.

    I enjoyed reading Shari's thoughts on what this will mean for Casey. I also wonder if this management change is why Casey hasn't announced a record contract yet.


  6. Wow. I didn't see that coming. Surely Sony sees what most others have seen. Especially since Casey has been on tour. He has been the star! Not taking anything away from the rest who are all good. Some have worked very hard to get where they are at. But Casey has, as you said, the total package. @Shellgal9 said that she wrote a letter to Casey. I would love to do that but I wouldn't even know where to start. The way that Casey has touched me, there are no words to describe it. I only know in my soul that I want the very best for him. Reading his story and all that he has gone through, Casey has most definitely paid his dues. He is not a 12 year old overnight Youtube star. He has put everything that he is into his music and it shows. I pray for Casey every day. My prayer now is that God will protect Casey thru this AI conversion and that Casey will have the best possible scenario waiting for him. He has loved, dreamt and lived music until it is the very essence of him. I can only hope that the music companies see that the way that we see it. Anyone that knows anything about Casey, knows that he is gonna give it his all. He will be the hardest working musician in the business. He will never take a second given to him for granted. I care for Casey and his future. I have become pretty protective of him. He is, I would think, what every music company could only wish that they had. He has a bright future; I just pray that he won't have to wait too much longer for his dreams to become his full blown reality.

  7. One last thing, each one of these Idols are tied to a lengthy contract (no matter where you place). There is a reason it hasn't leaked for so long. Nobody would ever sign it.

  8. Sorry, I can't edit my post -- seems Sony has indeed spoken in this regard.

    Sony issued its own statement: "After enjoying a successful relationship, Sony Music Entertainment wishes Simon Fuller and 19 Entertainment well in this transitional period for the American Idol franchise. We look forward to continuing our relationships with the many artists on the Sony Music roster who have graduated from the American Idol system, including Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia, David Cook, Adam Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta among others and we are excited for the upcoming albums later this fall from Season 9’s winner and runner-up Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox."

  9. It didn't occur to me that this is very bad news for Lee DeWyze, who needed Idol pimp machine to win, and will need it for any modicum of album sales. No offense to him or his fans, but s9 was crafted for him to become the eventual winner. Sony doesn't have many promotional outlets without Idol.

    For Casey, the less he's associated with Idol, the better.

    Crystal is a toss up.

  10. I don't think the severance of the relationship between 19E/Fremantle (American Idol) and Sony (the record label) means the current winner will not appear on the show or other Idol-related obligations. Having said that, I'm not sure how much Sony will put into supporting him and Crystal given the situation. I guess it depends on whether Sony jumped ship or was pushed overboard or if there was a mutual disagreement that led both sides to this divorce...non-contract-extension?...whatever.

    I don't care who signs Casey as long as he gets to make a record that I can buy and gets to tour in my area so I can see him play his own concert.

    That said, I note that some of Casey's comments have been very non-committal lately. He's says he's going to make a record when he's done with the Idol tour, but that could be with a label or on his own. Sony makes no mention of him in the press release, and I don't know if that's because they've decided to take a pass on him given the situation with 19E moving on, or if it's just not a done deal yet.

    I think UMG would be a better fit, but their rights start with season 10. So where does that leave Casey and any of the others who are currently unsigned?

    I'm sure Casey's not worried about this at all because he's got the best attitude about everything. He's doing what he loves and getting paid to play for thousands of appreciative fans on tour and really what more can he ask (a good night's sleep maybe, poor guy).


  11. i think casey will be just fine.not only talent and looks but brains too.he just seems like the kinda person that does his homework.i personally i think he's already signed just waitin to announce it....

  12. @CJFan_Audrey (Twitter)August 5, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    Thanks for offering perspectives on different scenarios Shari. Helps clarify a lot for me. Like you, I'm confident Casey's skills, and dare I say the word I hate to hear, "commercial"-appeal will win him a record deal in the near future. He'll be just fine and I look forward to his solo career, not influenced (well hopefully) by AI.