What ‘American Idol’ Mentor Scott Borchetta Expects From a Winner

American Idol
American Idol

American Idol is often referred to as the gold standard of singing competitions, having launched the careers of such mega-selling artists as Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Carrie Underwood. But over the past few years, the series has been unable to crown a truly marketable winner. This season, producers brought in a new mentor, Scott Borchetta, the president and CEO of Big Machine Records and the man responsible for discovering Taylor Swift. Borchetta works with the Top 12 contestants on a more day-to-day basis than previous mentors, advising them on everything from song selection to stage presence.

“We’ve approached this with the same authority and intensity that we use when we sign a new artist,” says Borchetta, who brought along his own staff that handles talent scouting and artistic development to monitor the singers during production. “I don’t know that you could say any TV show is as relevant as it was five or 10 years ago, but I have the opportunity to be in front of 10 million people a week working with contestants to develop them and get them as prepared as possible to have a successful recording career.”

Borchetta’s involvement is particularly intense since the winner automatically signs a recording contract with Big Machine. “I’m looking for individuality, artistic vision, and for the singer to be wired for this moment,” he says. “Idol is great training if we can get the right [person] to have the complete package.”

Ironically, Borchetta doesn’t believe his label’s marquee star would have flourished on the show. “The core of Taylor Swift is her songwriting. We’re not dealing with original songs [on Idol],” he says. “When she was [starting out] at 14 or 15, the show was about big singers, and they didn’t let contestants play an instrument. I don’t think it would have been the right avenue for her at that point.”

While it’s too early for Borchetta to name a favorite, he’s convinced that an Idol winner can still make an impact in the industry. “There’s a saying in the label group: ‘Find the coolest artists and make the coolest records.’ When you get it right, it’s that easy.”

American Idol, 8/7c, Fox