American Idol Exec Producer On Controversial Twists and More

TV Line recently spoke with Per Blankens, the mysterious executive producer of American Idol. Has anyone seen a photo of this guy? Sadly, Per doesn’t do social media. I so miss having a boss on twitter (coughNigel Lythgoecough) trolling the fans. Ha.

Anyway, Per speaks, finally, and as far as the season is concerned, he admits no mistakes. Take, for instance, those middle rounds the fans hated to much.  He insists the entire Top 30 DID sing. It’s just that the round was not televised:

So, one twist this season that was pretty controversial happened during “Rush Week” — when you had 15 guys and 15 ladies in a holding room, but only let 10 of each take the stage and sing for America’s votes. In retrospect, was that too cruel? If you could do it over again, would you still have kids come all that way without giving them an opportunity to sing? I liked how it turned out, and what I regret is that we didn’t explain properly for the viewers what had happened. The last thing that you saw [prior to Rush Week] was the Green Mile, as I call it, when the judges tell the 30 kids, “You’re through to the next round.” What we didn’t show on TV was that all the 30 kids performed in front of the judges on the very same day as the [Rush Week] broadcast, and during that round, the judges decided which 10 of each category could perform for the viewers. And they could’ve said to them [right then and there], “You’re going through, or you’re not going through,” but since it’s a TV show, they revealed that information on the live broadcast. We could’ve explained better that we didn’t fly 30 people all the way to L.A. just to have them sitting in the chamber and not performing. That week we aired Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and after the Tuesday show, we were like “Oh my God, we haven’t been clear.” We tried to put it in the script many times for the Wednesday show, but the damage was already done. [You can’t assume] the viewers got it, because how it is when you watch TV, you’re talking on your phone and you’re doing the dishes.

And that round we didn’t no about wasn’t filmed? It should have been. And we should have gotten to see some clips at least–just like the Green Mile in seasons past.  If it didn’t happen on my TV, then it might as well have not happened.

Per explains why original songs were performed rarely during the live rounds.

It’s not that hard to pull them off, it’s just that not all the kids are gifted at writing original songs. And the other thing is that if the audience recognizes the song, then they can relate to it and have an opinion if the contestant is doing it well or not. So, I like when you can audition with original songs, but don’t necessarily want to have too many original songs when we go into the live rounds.

The Top 4 all prepared original songs to sing for competition this week, before they were pulled suddenly at the last minute. I wonder which original song sucked so bad that the producers decided to scrap the idea? Hm.

Ugh. It looks like Randy is here to stay. Per loves him.

Probably the biggest complaint I’ve seen from readers this year focuses on Randy Jackson and his role as mentor. We haven’t really seen any specific advice he’s given the contestants. Is that a fair criticism?
No. I mean Randy is our in-house mentor. He put together the workshop that you really liked, he brought in Adam and Chris. He’s been the mentor, and he’s actually working a lot — not only on camera, but off camera with the kids every week. And then he has brought in the other [guest] mentors. I think Randy’s doing a fantastic job.

But when David Cook and Jason Mraz came in as guest mentors, we saw them giving really actionable, specific feedback. In the weeks where it was Randy alone, we didn’t see any of that on our screens. Which makes me wonder…
I mean, in the beginning, you saw Randy — like, the three first weeks [of live shows], he was doing what David and Jason did. But then, as the show moves on and we need new content, he still does [his job] but maybe we’re not showing it enough on TV. And he has his part on Thursdays, where he talks about how it went down on Wednesdays with the kids. If you think you haven’t seen enough of him, I’m sorry, Maybe we can bring him back a little bit more now at the end [of the season], if that’s a request from you, Mike.


There are a lot of complaints that you show way too many shots of J.Lo during performances — to the point where readers have been asking if you’re contractually obligated to show her X number of times per performance or per episode.
Oh, really? They’re complaining about too many shots of J.Lo? Is that possible? [Laughs] There’s no contractual thing. We obviously want to show the whole panel, but I haven’t really done any counting of who gets the most cutaways.

On the Twist.  Per swears it was planned ahead of time, before they knew who would be eliminated. He insists it was not cruel.

Were you surprised two kids voted “No” put the kibosh on it? And was there any part of you that thinks, in retrospect, maybe it was too mean-spirited to put the contestants through that on live TV?No, I wouldn’t say too cruel, because we wanted to give the power back to the kids. The viewers decide who goes or who stays, and then you have the Judges’ Save, where they get a say. But at no point do  the contestants themselves get to decide. It has to be unanimous — and they also voted anonymously, so we did try to figure out how we could do it without being cruel, and I think we came up with the best solution. Either everybody thinks it’s a good idea — or if somebody doesn’t, then we’re not doing it, so that’s the unanimous part of it.

Did you think everyone would vote yes? I had no idea how it would end. We had two different endings in the control room: We had a code word called “confetti” or “no confetti.”

Did you guys decide to do the twist before or after you knew Sam was the lowest vote-getter? We decided this before we knew who was going home.

He wanted to give the power back to the kids? How magnanimous of him. *EYES ROLL*

Other tidbits

  • Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry were super devoted mentors during Randy’s bootcamp. They did a lot of stuff we did not see.
  • Per may try some narrower themes next season, but for the most part, song choice will stay broad. Not that I mind. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the kids are allowed to perform in their wheelhouse.
  • Per brought the new visual look–split screens and such-from Idol in Sweden. He doesn’t know if he’ll keep it for next year. I LOVED the way Idol was shot during the audition rounds–it had a documentary feel.  I hope that doesn’t change.
  • If they show goes back to one hour results shows, Per would love to bring back more Idol alums to perform. I would not hold my breath on Idol’s hours expanding next season, tho.
  • If the show needs a game changer for next season, Per certainly has some suggestions for FOX

Per speaks as if he’s returning next year. I’m not sure what the terms of his contract were. After another season of terrible ratings, would FOX shake up the production staff again? We’ll find out soon enough.

There’s more at TV Line


About mj santilli 34995 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!