Antonio “L.A.” Reid is a three-time Grammy Award-winning record executive, songwriter, and record producer. Reid is best known for co-founding LaFace Records with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
He is the President and chief executive of Hitco Music Publishing, based in Atlanta and was the chairman and chief executive officer of Island Def Jam Music Group until 2011, when he signed up to appear as a judge on the 2011 U.S. version of The X Factor
L.A. Reid was kind enough to sit down for a Fox Q&A to discuss The X Factor. Everyone in attendance was buzzing with excitement and just had a good time.
Thank you, L.A. Reid and Fox Broadcasting Company. Enjoy!
Can you talk about your decision process with Chris Rene and how you worked through the issue of his past to give him a shot? That must have been tough for you.
You know, Chris Rene has been one of the most popular contestants on this show thus far. So, the only thing that was difficult was the fact that my category had so many guys that I really liked and some really incredible talent, and just narrowing it down to four was a very tough thing. But Chris was always a standout from his very first audition and I’m really happy to have him.
You know this is a competition between the four judges all set to see what team wins, but what happens now that Simon has an extra player on his team and how will that work with the seventeen contestants if the season is sort of mapped out for sixteen people?
Well, I’m not exactly sure what that process is, Emily, and I don’t know if it means that we will end up cutting two in the first episode. I’m not exactly sure. This is for me sort of my first time at bat, my first barbecue, so I’m learning it as I go, but I was very happy though that Simon did go back and rethink Melanie from Miami. I thought she was really fantastic in the auditions. So, however it works out, I think so far it’s working out for the better.
Simon had initially said before the season started that anything under 20 million viewers would be a disappointment and I know the ratings haven’t really hit that point yet, so I was wondering if you were surprised by the ratings and if the show is doing anything to try and bring in more viewers?
Well, the fact of the matter is that we have a very successful show and we have an average of over 12 million viewers averaging, so it’s a very successful show, and whether we hit twenty or not—you know, I’d like to hit thirty. I mean, I’d like to sweep it, but that’s not really what is important to me. That’s a statement that Simon put out there and I think it was an aspirational statement and I hope that we can at some point get there, but I’m not disappointed that we’re not there.
Will you trash talk Simon Cowell’s choices in any way? Would you have done anything differently with the eight women he had?
Yes, I would have probably made—I won’t trash talk his decisions, but I have a very different taste than Simon, so I may have made some very different choices, but Simon is incredible and the most experienced guy at doing what we’re doing here with THE X FACTOR and with talent competition on television. So, I’m actually here to learn and watch and see exactly what Simon does, but my taste is different, so the answer is yes; I would have made some different choices.
Was Caitlin one of the ones you would have kept?
That one I’ll keep to myself.
Yes, you’re not going to name names?
No names. No names.
Getting back to Chris a little bit, since he’s a local guy for us. First of all, what do you think you have to do to win this thing? What kind of coaching would you give him? What would you tell him?
You know, he has a very unique talent. You know, Chris is somewhere between a singer and almost like a sing rapper. I don’t know what the right word is for it, but he really just has to nail the material. He has to find the right material and then he has to give a compelling performance—a really competitive and compelling performance. If he gets into the moment and he really feels comfortable with the material as he did with his own material when he did his initial audition—if he finds that same comfort with the material that he’ll do on the show, then he’s going to be fine.
Is anything, you know, obviously, you and Simon both expressed a little bit of weariness about, “Oh, okay, you’ve got to stay on the right track.” Is anything being done to keep them on the right track? What are you guys—or does the show leave them alone, or what? How does that go?
Chris gave us his word that he would stay straight. I’m going to take him at his word. When I see him, he looks amazing, and every time I see him he looks even improved from the time before, so whatever he is doing in his own time, it looks like it’s working and I have faith in Chris. I think that he’s going to really emerge as an amazing star and also, a man that we can be proud of who does have the strength to overcome his illness, and the disease he calls “addiction.”
During the auditions I noticed that sometimes Simon would place a lot of emphasis on spectacle and you would be a little skeptical of that. I wonder particularly—what do you think of Nicole’s decision to take Dexter Haygood over some of those other over thirty’s? What can he—is it all about the spectacle and is it just because he can put on a much better show? Would you have made a different choice than that?
Well, first of all, I like Dexter a lot, and I respect Nicole’s decision to put Dexter through. Dexter is clearly an artist, a performer, and in this case, a contestant who’s gone through some very, very tough times in his life, right? I don’t think it was so much a focus on spectacle. I think it was more believing in someone and giving someone an opportunity to rebound and to really get their life on track, because he’s clearly talented and yes, he’s a showman, but I don’t think it was a decision based on spectacle. I think it was based on opening a door and giving someone an opportunity to straighten up. And that I support, one-hundred percent.
Also, this is a little off-topic, but just the experience of being on TV and knowing that you’re on camera while watching these people perform, what is going through your head, because you’ve had some very—I particularly enjoyed sort of your seated dance moves. How aware are you when you’re kind of feeling the music that you’re on camera? Do you think about that?
I don’t see a camera. I don’t think about a camera. As far as I’m concerned, I’m sitting in my office and I’m admiring talent, or I’m sitting in the theatre and I’m admiring talent and responding to it, but I don’t do anything for the camera. I don’t see the camera, I don’t notice the camera and I have no concerns for the camera.
There are a lot of people who have been saying in recent years that these televised competitions will actually replace A&R departments at record companies because of the fact that the different promising artists get all this visibility. As somebody who is a record company executive, do you believe that this is the wave of the future or do you just see these reality show competitions as just an enhancement, just another way to discover talent?
That’s a really good question. The answer is that it’s an enhancement because it doesn’t replace A&R. If we look at the charts today, if we look at the most popular songs in the world today, you’ll see that they are largely made up of artists that are found through traditional sources, right? And yet, we do have some talent that is developed from TV reality contests, but for the most part, it hasn’t changed much.
The good news is that between X FACTOR and other talent competitions and things like YouTube, we now have more resources for talent, and as a record executive, what we’re looking for are more opportunities to discover talent. So, for us, it’s only an enhancement, but clearly not a replacement.
We hear on so many of these talent shows how important song selection is for a contestant, and during the judges homes phase of the competition, we didn’t really get to see how the songs were selected. So, can you tell us about how the songs are selected—things that we may not have seen on TV?
Well, we spend a considerable amount of time going through material and trying to find things that we think are sometimes a fit for the contestant, and sometimes a stretch for the contestant, because in the traditional world of records, when artists are selecting material or when we as record executives are selecting material for them, it may not always be their comfort zone and there are times when we’ve forced them to stretch that they’ve actually had their biggest successes. We spend a considerable amount of time going through material and trying different versions of it, different variations on it.
What we try not to do is to just simply do karaoke. Right? But, we do spend a considerable amount of time on material. I love music and I love song, so the most difficult thing is I have about 30,000 songs that I go through to try to find—it’s insane. I make myself crazy.
As a mentor then you have the final decision on the songs that we saw performed from your category?
The X Factor airs on Fox.