If you knew Kara DioGuardi, like I know Kara DioGuardi, you’d know that even before the new season of “American Idol” premieres on Tuesday, she’s going to be a success.
DioGuardi was fresh out of Duke when she started at Billboard Magazine as assistant to the editor and publisher in the early ’90s. I was the talent editor at the trade magazine. Before I go any further, if you’re looking for one of those pieces that makes it sound like DioGuardi and I are besties who shop on Robertson Ave. together before lunching at the Ivy, stop reading right now.
Instead, I can attest that from the moment she started at Billboard, it was clear that her smarts, common sense and ambition would take her far.
What wasn’t so immediately apparent was the creative talent that would lead to her becoming one of the top songwriters of the last decade and probably Billboard’s most successful alumnus in its 115-year history. A very short list of the hits she’s co-written include “Walk Away” (Kelly Clarkson), “Pieces of Me” (Ashlee Simpson), “Rich Girl” (Gwen Stefani), “Ain’t No Other Man” (Christina Aguilera), “Play My Music” (Jonas Bros.), “Taking Chances” (Celine Dion) and “Come Clean”(Hilary Duff).
Quite honestly, at Billboard she was so self-assured and so no-nonsense (although always friendly) that she intimidated me a little bit even though I outranked her. Watching her in action was great fun: the foolish few who discounted her as a mindless, pretty young thing would get put in their place if they tried to slip anything past her-and they weren’t likely to underestimate her again.
Billboard’s then dance editor, Larry Flick, saw her spark of talent as a songwriter and performer, however, and from the start, mentored DioGuardi in a wonderful and encouraging way. His faith in her never wavered, even after a deal with MCA as a solo artist went nowhere.
By the late ’90s, DioGuardi left the magazine to focus exclusively on her songwriting. Between her innate intelligence and the business acumen she acquired at Billboard, she made great career decisions that she’ll be able to pass on to “AI” contestants, such as retaining her publishing rights instead of signing a publishing deal (only last year, after her copyrights were worth millions and millions and, I assume, had already earned her millions and millions, did she sell a percentage of her copyrights).
She and I both relocated from New York to Los Angeles. We now run into each other a few times a year at music industry events and I’m always happy to see her and get caught up.
She’s stayed the same as she was at Billboard: incredibly perceptive, no one’s fool, and remarkably down to earth for the success she’s achieved. If I had to guess where she’ll fall in spectrum of “American Idol” judges, my hunch is she’ll prove a perfect counterpoint to Paula Abdul’s flakiness-not in a confrontational way, but as someone who intuitively knows what it takes to make it in the mainstream pop world. She’ll be forthright, but not in a callous, Simon Cowell way and she’ll leave the words “pitchy” and “dawg” to Randy Jackson. Contestants would be wise to heed her suggestions since she understands every facet of what it takes to be an artist in today’s world. She’ll also be self-deprecating and hilarious.
If you want to see what I mean, go to DioGuardi’s webite. She posted a video where she goes up to clearly oblivious tourists asking if they know who the new “American Idol” judge is. None of them does, much less that she’s standing right in front of them. She then asks them to pronounce her name and they mangle it. She’s laughing harder than anyone else.
Clearly, that anonymity is about to change. She’s already been on a seemingly relentless press tour introducing herself to the world, but the real craziness will start as the “AI” season gets underway and DioGuardi comes into our homes twice a week. DioGuardi has said she already plans to keep her day job as a songwriter- she’s been writing with Colbie Caillat-and as an A&R exec at Warner Bros. Records, and as head of Arthouse Entertainment, a publishing company with 15 writers.
I expect her to handle the impending onslaught with humor and grace. Unlike Abdul, she’s probably not going to launch a jewelry line or have cameras follow her around for a reality show, but becoming a household name will drive her current ventures and help her fund future ones. Like I said, she’s a smart girl. Now, the rest of the world will know what those of us who have gotten to witness her phenomenal rise from assistant to songwriting superstar have known all along.