Can Caleb Lee Hutchinson Become the Next Big ‘American Idol’ Star? Disney Is Going to Try
There's an almost-guaranteed career path post-American Idol in recent years: win the show (or place in the finals), release a single that does well immediately, then vanish from the radio more or less forever. Disney is planning to change that with the top stars of the new Idol reboot.
The revived singing competition has come down to the final three contestants in 2018; Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Maddie Poppe and Gabby Barrett. Variety reports that Disney executives have a very different vision of how the careers of artists should play out after their Idol experience; they are looking to build huge stars a la Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, not short-term success that quickly fades. To that end, they have put together promotional plans for the finalists that will take advantage of the entire scope of Disney's $150 billion holdings, which include theme parks, music divisions and television.
“Something I was pretty emphatic about, that always felt like a miss for the show, was that we have to continue telling the story of the winner,” Disney Music Group President Ken Bunt says. Among the tools that Disney can employ are “more opportunities with ABC, when you think of the specials they have; what we could be doing with the parks; maybe a TV show on Freeform,” he adds. “Previous Idols never did that. We want to keep the talent from the show at top-of-mind for the rest of the year.”
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A five-person A&R team has been working to make sure that the singers are not simply set adrift musically when the run of the show is over. Disney operates Hollywood Records, Walt Disney Records and Disney Music Publishing, and they recently put out a call for song submissions that were carefully tailored to each artist. Those artists then got to listen to a batch of the best songs and personally choose what they were most interested in — a striking contrast to years past, when winners and finalists were oftentimes forced to record whatever song was chosen for them, regardless of whether they felt it suited them or not.
“It’s a much more collaborative way of working," Bunt says.
That may be just what's required. Big Machine Label Group head Scott Borchetta was involved in the last seasons of Idol when it was still at Fox, before the current reboot took it to ABC. He tells Variety his Idol experience was "an extraordinary education on the TV side," but cautions, "It is not easy" on the label side to translate that into music that will perform well at radio.
Disney plans to retain some of the cornerstones of past post-Idol rollouts, including the immediate release of a "coronation single" from the winner, a massive media blitz and a summer tour featuring the final seven contestants. A music video and holiday album are also priorities, and the media giant is hopeful that the multi-faceted marketing opportunities can make a difference in the marketplace.
"It's going to test the mettle of that label," one Idol insider states.
Nineteen-year-old Hutchinson has been a standout all season, and he's one of the strongest country music contestants we've seen on Idol in years. Will he win this season and go on to a huge career? We'll find out when American Idol's season finale airs on Monday (May 21).
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