American Idol: Kara DioGuardi
Browsing a record store, Kara DioGuardi looks like a shoe fiend attacking a sale rack. "OK. The first thing I do is see what's out in pop," the newest American Idol judge says upon entering Amoeba Records in Hollywood. It quickly becomes apparent that the 38-year-old songwriter and producer had a hand in almost every CD in sight--from Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride to Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics. But she's modest about it: "I don't go to record stores to look at my albums," says DioGuardi, the daughter of a former New York congressman, "but it's always a thrill to see them. I still can't believe this is the job I get paid to do."
The Grammy nominee wears more hats than Queen Elizabeth: When she's not penning songs or harmonizing with the Pussycat Dolls, she works as a senior vice president of A&R at Warner Bros. Records and co-owns her own music publishing company. But even with all that experience, DioGuardi wasn't quite ready for 30 million Idol fans. "Before this whole Idol thing happened, I had one lipstick and a mascara that someone left at my house," she says with a laugh. "Now I have to wear eye shadow and blush and all that." Here, DioGuardi reveals why--primping aside--her new job rocks.
OK, let's talk American Idol. You must feel like the new kid on the block, right?
Well, I already knew Paula and Randy. But I didn't know Simon that well. It was about respecting these three people, who have been doing this for a long time, but also trying to be honest and be myself.
Have you had to find your own niche as a judge? It's more about "What side of myself am I going to show?"
I can be tough, but I can also be nurturing. It's hard to be critical with young people. You don't want to disappoint them, but you also don't want to send them down a path when you know they won't be successful.
There has been so much talk of a Paula-Kara rivalry. But you two cowrote a song together. Is it all hype?
Paula and I are friends, and she's been a huge help to me. I like strong women, and Paula is a fighter. It's great that there are times on the show now where you see girl power.
How about Simon power?
Oh, he's naughty, naughty, naughty! He's that guy who was a year in front of you in school, who had that smile that was so captivating, but if you went there, he would eat you alive. He's funny and quick-witted. At times, we disagree, but I dish it right back at him, because I'm from New York and I'm feisty.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I was a pop-music junkie. My parents were into Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. They weren't too excited when I had Aretha or the Stones pumping. [I would be singing] and my brother would yell, "Shut the hell up!" But listening to all that popular music helped me in my songwriting career. Listen to the Bee Gees and you can learn to be a great writer.
When did you write your first professional song?
I was 22. It was so bad. It was called "Show Me." It was based on the fact that I was with a guy who didn't want to emotionally commit, so I was saying, "Show me what's going on inside." Terrible. Ugh.
They say your heart has to be shattered to write a kick-ass breakup song. True?
For me, yes. I have breakups that I can credit to every song. In my twenties, I picked people who would create that dysfunction and drama, so I could draw upon it. With my boyfriend now, we don't have that drama. There are moments when I wake up and think, "Oh, shit! There's nothing bad here."
You've collaborated with everyone from Britney Spears to Gwen Stefani. Who are you dying to work with next?
Prince. He's a bold artist who's done it on his own terms. You can listen to his records today and it sounds like he made them five minutes ago.
When you hear a song you've written, do you sing along?
Depends. I'm not going to scream, "Oh my God! That's my song!" But you know what I'll do? When I'm out somewhere and hear one of my songs, I look around and smile, like, "I've got a secret..."
Speaking of secrets: How do you stay so fit?
I drink lots of water and sleep eight hours a night. I also exercise three times a week: 20 minutes of cardio and 40 minutes of weights with cardio. I run up and down stairs and do the elliptical. I also do step-ups on a bench.
How about your diet?
Dieting is not my thing. I'm an eater--an Italian who doesn't eat is an outcast--but I do it in moderation. I make a special dish of vegetables and sausage with garlic and oil. If I want to get crazy, I make rice--lasagna, too.
Forget lasagna. What's the secret recipe to becoming a star?
Individuality, hard work, and having something to say. You've got to have heart and be bold.
Ten CDs Kara Thinks Everyone Should Own:
1. Carole King: Tapestry
2. James Taylor: Sweet Baby James
3. Frank Sinatra: Nothing But The Best
4. The Rolling Stones: Through the Past Darkly
5. Carpenters: The Singles 1969-1973
6. Eagles: Hotel California
7. Saturday Night Fever: Soundtrack
8. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
9. The Police: Synchronicity
10. The Essential Bob Dylan
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