Music industry executives tell me that they’d be stunned if Universal Music can turn American Idol’s new winner Scotty McCreery into a big enough star to set him up for a long-term career. The teenager is seen as a likable country music performer who could have a few hits if he’s paired with catchy tunes and a shrewd producer. But they say that he didn’t display the charisma, vocal dexterity or strong point of view that singers typically need in order to endure or broaden their appeal to the pop market. McCreery’s limitations will become more obvious as he tries to compete with compelling country music hitmakers including Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban — and Idol’s Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood. True, the weekly appearances on television’s most popular show have made McCreery a household name. But so were previous winners Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen and Taylor Hicks, who have yet to set the music world on its ear. That may have had something to do with the fact that up to now Idol winners were at the mercy of Sony Music’s Clive Davis whose commercial instincts haven’t kept up with the times. McCreery and other Idol finalists who land recording deals will work with a hipper group led by Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Universal’s Interscope-Geffen-A&M.
Still, there’s only so much a producer can do. So here’s a thought for next year: Why not change the voting process so it doesn’t give so much power to the young text-messaging viewers who love bland contestants — but not deeply enough to buy their records? Or maybe Idol just needs judges who will insist that performers do more than pick personally appropriate songs and sing them on pitch.