Audiences may not have recognized the name or her face, but when Kara DioGuardi became the fourth judge on "American Idol," she was already a big name in the music business. As a singer/songwriter, DioGuardi has penned an impressive catalogue of songs, hundreds of which have the names of big stars attached to them: Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," Gwen Stefani's "If I Were a Rich Girl," Pink's "Sober," and the list goes on.
Aside from helping to write more than a few multi-platinum records, DioGuardi is a busy woman. Just a few of the ways she occupies her time include co-owning a music publishing and production company, Arthouse Entertainment, seeking out new talent for as an A&R executive for Warner Brothers, and most recently, she's begun hosting her own Top-40's radio show.
Her busy schedule doesn't seem to be slowing her down by much, and it definitely didn't stop her from taking the gig with "American Idol." She recalls being very enthusiastic at the offer. "It was really exciting but I had no idea what was to come," she said. DioGuardi said that although her role as judge has been incredible, she had a rough time at the start.
"I think America felt like I was there to replace Paula," she said of the much-adored, longtime judge Paula Abdul.
"I'm not really as nurturing," she said, laughing. "That's not my thing." A self-described "typical New Yorker," DioGuardi said that audiences were taken aback by her sugar-free judging style.
She said she made the mistake of reading the comments on Idol message boards, where fans were not shy about their opinions. Many had no idea who she was. "'Where did she come from? Did you just grab her off the street?'" she recalled reading.
DioGuardi said her heart would sink reading the comments. "That was rough," she said. "Because even though I'm tough, there's a sensitive side to me, of course -- I'm a songwriter."
Eventually, she learned to quit minding the chatter. "I had to stop. So I think it's gotten better this year. People have reconsidered me."
Added to that, she said, was the pressure of joining the long-established comedic trio of her fellow judges -- Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Abdul -- and trying to make her own place with them and with host Ryan Seacrest. "It just felt like I had moved to a new high school," she said.
This year she has settled into her role as the provider of constructive criticism. She's not as sweet as Abdul, but definitely not as scathing as Cowell, who has announced he won't be returning next season.
When pressed, DioGuardi said she thought Harry Connick Jr., who'd spent time on the show as a celebrity mentor, might prove to be a worthy replacement for Cowell. "The way that he worked with the contestants, he really cared about them," she said, adding that Connick was nurturing and provided good advice to contestants.
"I thought he was really, really great," she said.
DioGuardi grew up in suburban New York. Her mother was a homemaker, while her father was a politician. Both parents recognized early that their daughter had talent, a fact that DioGuardi is almost painfully aware of today.
"My dad went and got all the videos from the basement and put them online, and I almost died when I saw them," she said. "I'm like, 'Daddy! I have braces and my hair is wing-backed!'"