American Idol judge Randy Jackson reflects on what it takes to become a pop star in his new book, What's Up Dawg? How to Become a Superstar in the Music Business
Do You Have "It"?
In 1989, I was working in San Francisco with Narada Michael Walden, one of the hottest producers in the country at the time. We were making some of the dopest hits of the day, including Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" and George Michael and Aretha's duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting."
Demos from unknown artists poured nonstop into the office. WE would sit and listen to everything. We heard lots of good songs and hot voices — and dude, some that were beyond terrible. It wasn't often that a Whitney or an Aretha would come calling.
I'll never forget the day when an unforgettable demo from a young, unknown singer came into the office. A big-name record exec had just signed her and was looking for producers to work on her first album. We played the cassette and couldn't believe what we were hearing.
The singer had written the lyrics and melodies herself. The music had a jazzy, Anita Baker-meets-pop/R&B sound to it. Beautiful. But it was the singer's voice that took my breath away. Her unbelievably sweet, buttery tones. Her incredible seven-octave range. Her amazing phrasing. And she sang with such conviction and passion.
She had the complete package. I just could not believe how talented this singer was. She had the kind of voice that commands you to listen to the end of a song because you just can't turn it off. The kind of voice you hear on the radio that makes you pull the car over and call the radio station, yo, who the hell is this? You want to rush out and buy that song. That music touched you. Affected you. Gave you the chills.
There was no doubt in my mind. She was going to be a star. I knew the public would not deny that voice. This is what we in the business, look for. She had "it."
The singer? Mariah Carey.
What is "it"? So yo, you want to know what "it" is and, more important, if you've got it. The "it" I'm talking about is that rare combination of personality, charisma and talent that can catapult you to stardom.
Michael Jackson, Elvis, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, the Beatles, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z, Beoncé Knowles and Elton John, among others, all have "it."
The people who have "it" also have that je ne sais quoi — that special something that attracts people to them and makes fans want to walk, talk, act and be like them. Look at Michael Jackson. He was a star as a child but exploded on the scene with Thriller in the eighties. How do we know that he had "it"? Everyone was dancing like him. Everyone was dressing like him. Everyone was infatuated with him. He influenced millions of people. Michael Jackson owned the eighties.
Same thing with Madonna. She came out in her bra and panties, shocked everyone and dominated the scene. At the height of her popularity, young girls everywhere were trying to emulate her because she was so bold, so uninhibited — and so unique, like nothing you'd ever seen or heard before. She made you ask, "Whoa, who the hell was that?"