Can Usher Bring Cred Back to ‘American Idol’?
Is Usher the man to, well, help usher in new stars on 'American Idol'? The R&B singer and record label head is the show's guest mentor this week and he'll perform on the results show on Wednesday, Mar. 31. Following Miley Cyrus' mentor turn, which many criticized because of her youthful inexperience, Usher's measure as a mentor is being scrutinized.
The longtime star, whose new album 'Raymond v. Raymond' is out now, obviously has some mentoring skills -- just look at protegé Justin Bieber. The 16-year-old star, who is expected to perform with Usher on 'Idol,' rose to immediate success after signing to Usher and manager Scott Braun's Raymond Braun Music Group. Bieber's second record, 'My World 2.0,' was issued Mar. 23 and is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart this week. So far, it seems Usher's done just fine with an unknown.
"As an 'Idol' fan and industry person, I actually think this may be a good choice," publicist Susan Scotti, of Boston firm the Last Call Agency, tells The BoomBox. "Usher has sold over 40 million albums and has won five Grammy awards," Scotti adds. "Not only that, but he has run a successful record label and discovered Justin Bieber, who has become huge. So, he seems to know a potential star when he hears one. Although I like Ellen DeGeneres, I have been somewhat disappointed in her as a choice and believe that Usher may rejuvenate the whole process."
With 'Idol' in a widely-perceived slump, Usher, Bieber and Diddy, who is also set to perform on the show, are sure to boost cross-generational ratings. Still, that doesn't hide what many are calling the weakest set of 'Idol' contestants ever.
"This year the show is falling flat. I'm surprised at the contestants this year," says Grammy Award-winning producer and publisher Bob Cutarella. "There are so many talented people out there and they go through such a big process to find those talents, like an Adam Lambert. Then, all of a sudden, you have this year. Honestly, I'm at a total loss to tell who's who. I'm not even paying attention like I used to. No one stands out."
Cutarella, who himself runs a website for unknown talent called ICritiqueU.biz, has worked with everyone from Slash to Celine Dion. Throughout 2009, he was often on the 'American Idol' set working with Paula Abdul, "managing her branding elements." Cutarella, who also counts Randy Jackson as an old friend, sees Usher's inclusion as boosting the credibility of the show.
"I'm a real proponent of songwriters. As a contemporary songwriter, his music, like 'Can You Handle It,' is pretty typical," Cutarella says. "But as a contemporary songwriter selling millions of albums, he's more than qualified to mentor."
"'American Idol' falls into tricky territory sometimes," he adds. "There have been good mentors. Jamie Foxx was a good mentor -- he inherited Ray Charles, he absorbed him and he studied music. Smokey Robinson was a great mentor. It's history, knowledge of songwriting. Usher has that. I think he'd be good."
Even with weak contestants, though, Cutarella sees the appearance as an opportunity for Usher to shine, "if he's intelligent in his commentary and gets to the point. The good mentors are able to focus. You have to be creative and dig that out. He's got a job ahead of him, but I don't think he's beyond handling it by any means. He's creative -- he can spot talent."
Watch Usher's 'Lil Freak' Feat. Nicki Minaj Video