The rumors coming out of the "American Idol" camp seem to be flavored with a little twang of late. Still on the hunt for at least one judge -- Randy Jackson has yet to sign on for Season 12 -- the popular Fox Television singing competition appears to be leaning toward a country music judge. According to executive producer Nigel Lythgoe (who also has yet to sign on for another season), the show is actively pursuing someone in the country music genre to fill one of the seats left by the departing Season 11 judges, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
“Country IS America,” Lythgoe told The Hollywood Reporter in late July, just about the time rumors began to pop up that country star Brad Paisley was being courted by the show's producers for a judge's seat. Lythgoe noted the career longevity of country stars as opposed to pop stars and expressed interest in someone with current industry relevance -- although he would not speak directly about any country singers with which the show might be negotiating. Lythgoe produced a short-lived country-themed competition show like "Idol" for CMT and currently produces "Opening Act" for E! Television, a show that found and groomed a relatively unknown Oklahoma singer named Kylie Morgan to open for Jason Aldean earlier this year.
As for Paisley himself, he's currently headlining a national tour. Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery has been opening for him since the tour began.
But Brad Paisley isn't the only country star that's been approached. Toby Keith also announced in late July that he had been approached to do the show but had to decline due to the rigorous schedule involved, a schedule that would have clashed with his own.
There were also rumors that Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood was being considered. America already knows how well she and Brad Paisley get along. They've become so popular hosting the Country Music Association Awards' annual ceremony, they've been hired on to do them for a fifth straight year, according to Billboard.
And why not a country singer to be an "American Idol" judge? Blake Shelton proved to be the breakout star (although country music fans might dispute that, noting he's been a big country star for quite some time) on the NBC singing reality competition "The Voice." Keith Urban became a coach on Australia's version of the same show. Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland just saw her protege win ABC's "Duets." So maybe it is about time "American Idol" took on a country judge.
It's not as if the show hasn't produced a slew of country hit-makers in its decade run. Besides the reigning princess of country music, Carrie Underwood, who holds the title among "Idol" alumni for U. S. album sales (over 13.2 million), the show has given country music Josh Gracin (Season 2), Kellie Pickler (Season 5), Bucky Covington (Season 5), Danny Gokey (Season 8), Casey James (Season 9), Lauren Alaina (Season 10), and, of course, Scotty McCreery.
McCreery, since his win on "Idol," won the Academy of Country Music's Best New Artist award for 2012. His album, Clear As Day, has sold nearly 1.1 million copies.
And if one thinks that Season 11's Skylar Laine will have a long wait to start releasing country hit singles, it should be considered that she has sold 20,000 copies of the Walmart-only release of her album of songs from "American Idol."
It might be past time that "American Idol" embraced its country side and hired someone with a cowboy hat to sit beside Mariah Carey at the judges table. And they need to get a move on -- filming for the judges' auditions begins soon, because the major city auditions ended in July and the Small Towns Auditions Bus Tour began with its first stop -- of only ten -- in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on August 4.
(photo credit: Greg Hernandez, Creative Commons)