Tony Bennett Says He Was the First 'American Idol'

Tony Bennett first broke out in the last days of vaudeville and now he's defining cool for a whole new generation of fans on MTV. Bennett is being honored for that lifetime of song at the Kennedy Center in Washington tonight.

Tony Bennett: It's the best thing that could happen to an American citizen, you know, just to have all of those people respecting you, and there's something unforgettable about it.

My son, Danny, manages me, and he did a brilliant job of getting me on MTV. And everybody was shocked that the audience -- the young audience -- liked the songs that I did. I've sustained all these years as a result of just doing quality songs. The public enjoys quality.

Rosemary Clooney and I had caught the tail end, the very tail end, of vaudeville, where you just go from town to town, and your teachers are really the audiences. If you do something good, they'll be enthusiastic. If it's not that good, there'd be a lukewarm applause. And that's how you learned, you know.

Rosemary Clooney and I, we were the first American Idols.

I had a passion to do the two things, you know, singing and paint, and the Smithsonian Institute has accepted one of my paintings, and that's going to happen, so I'm thrilled about that.

Getting the award at the Kennedy Center is one of the-- I know it's absolutely the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.