Knowing who has "it" is exactly what I do in the music business and as a judge on American Idol. We say to everyone who comes into the Idol auditions — "What's going to make us like you over someone else? What's so special about you that we're going to go, 'Wow. We really like that'?" I can tell if a person's got "it" as soon as I meet them. I can tell if they have that special charisma. That infectiousness. When I hear singers auditioning for Idol, I can tell if they have it vocally as soon as they open their mouths. I can tell by the tone of their voice, their range, their control. You can see how much work they've done or if they are the rarest of the rare and have a God-given gift. And you can see how much work they need to do.
I knew that Idol's first winner, Kelly Clarkson, had it as soon as I heard her sing. Paula, Simon and I often argue about this, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in Dallas during the show's first season. It was the end of the afternoon, about 5 or 5:30. We were all tired. We'd heard about 85 kids at that point. We had seen some goofballs and crazy, wild kids, singing all kinds of songs you don't often hear at auditions, like "Silent Night." Just some weirdo people. We had heard some people who were good. But we also heard some people who were terrible.
Then Kelly walked in. Didn't have a particular look. Seemed to me the girl-next-door type. Then whoa! She started her audition and woke us up. I remember thinking, "Oh my God. This girl can really sing." The sound of her voice gave me the chills. Kelly was born with a natural gift. I think you can make a lot of headway if you have some talent, but remember those who make it big are usually born with it.
I thought, "If her talent could be shaped and could grow, she could go all the way." I loved her voice. Being a musician, what's always going to excite me first is the voice. I'm looking to get the chills or to be moved in some way. It's not about all the riffs and the runs that people associate with gospel music and try to mimic. It's not about the mechanics. It's about the sound of the voice. If I get the chills from the sound of the voice, that's what does it for me. And I know other people will probably get the chills from it, too. I look for that every time.
Excerpted from What's Up, Dawg? How to Become a Superstar in the Music Business By Randy Jackson © 2004 by Randy Jackson. Published by Hyperion.