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Morris W. O'Kelly Headshot

Why You (and I) Shouldn't Root for Jacob Lusk to Win American Idol

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The first time Mo'Kelly heard Jacob Lusk sing, it wasn't on TV. It was singing together in the tenor section at the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship here in Los Angeles. He was just as genuine, full of smiles and singing talent then as he is now. So can you imagine Mo'Kelly's pleasant surprise to see him blowing away the competition on American Idol?

That said, you think you want Jacob to win, but really you (and I) don't. Many think that winning American Idol is the best way to launch Lusk's eventual career, but Mo'Kelly is here to tell you that it most likely isn't.

Not all that glitters is gold.

It is undeniable that American Idol singlehandedly has catapulted unknowns into the world of music stardom. As well, it is equally inarguable that "not winning" has been a blessing in disguise for a number of Idol participants. The reality though is that American Idol by most accounts has jumped the shark and its best years are in the rearview mirror. The simultaneous exit of uber-villain Simon Cowell and the creation of competition program X-Factor says Mo'Kelly isn't alone in this view.

Understand that this commentary is coming from someone who worked a number of years for a number of different music labels within the industry.

The business is as cutthroat and unforgiving as any VH-1 Behind the Music or E! True Hollywood Story would have you believe, if not worse.

Presently, the winner and runner-up are required to sign an exclusive management contract with 19 Entertainment (a producer of American Idol) and variations of that agreement (for lesser money) are also offered to top finalists. The key distinction is "offered" versus "required."

Industry estimates are that Idol winners never make less than $1,000,000 in their first year.

By all accounts, such are impressive numbers. At the same time and also by all accounts, Jacob Lusk is a generational-type of talent... as in "once-in-a-generation" and often characterized as the second coming of balladeer Luther Vandross.

What most people don't know is that the contracts for the winner and runner-up lock them into up to a seven-year deal, more than twice that of any average, first-time management contract. Meaning, Ruben Studdard's 2003 deal would have just recently expired and arguably did nothing for his career in the final five years.

That's a bad deal.

The contract locks the artist into ancillary marketing, royalty and licensing deals which allows 19 Entertainment the ability to make money off the artist for as long as 10 years.

That's a bad deal.

In more balanced management relationships, the manager works for the artist, not vice-versa. The artist has final say as to the projects in which he or she participates, not vice-versa.

For the heretofore unknown singer with finite options available, the 19 Entertainment deal would seem to be a sweet proposition. That is only until an artist realizes he/she is giving away his professional life and negotiating leverage for periods long after an artist's shelf life.

If you think 19 Entertainment was giving Ruben Studdard the necessary attention and promotion in the development of his career while doing the same for the "more recent" winners of 2004-2010, you'd be a fool.   If you think Studdard has any leverage now to broker a new deal elsewhere and re-start his music career after disappearing from the spotlight, you'd be a fool. If you think Jennifer Hudson wins an Oscar much less charts her own path if she were managed by 19 Entertainment, you are also a fool. She too is a generational talent. If you think that the 19 Entertainment deal likely offers fair-minded incentives, commensurate to an artist growing into a superstar, you also are a fool.

19 Entertainment is fool's gold.

Just FYI, Idol 1 winner Kelly Clarkson allegedly cut ties with Simon Fuller and 19 Entertainment because the management team wasn't "focused" on her career. Regardless of how much stock you put into Clarkson's supposed reasons for parting ways, the fact still remains, she dumped them and hasn't looked back.

And before you ask, Fantasia Barrino is no longer managed by 19 Entertainment, either. These aren't coincidences. It smacks of artists being used to serve a one-sided purpose, not a mutual agreement which benefits both parties long term. 19 Entertainment incurs no risk and reaps most of the reward in perpetuity.

It's a bad deal.

Rooting for Jacob Lusk to win is rooting for Jacob to sign away his professional life to 19 Entertainment. History has shown that it is a bad idea all the way around.

Not all money is good money.

There is a reason why the NBA Players Association negotiated for a rookie contract to last not more than three years; to keep ownership from holding rights to talent on a pay scale below players' worth, well into their careers. The same principle applies here. The deal in year one for an Idol winner is wonderful for a struggling 20-something trying to live the dream. That same deal in year five and beyond for hopefully a superstar is usually seen for what it really is. It's paying for a rookie artist at a rookie pay scale for 7 years. There's a good signing bonus and perks but effectively handicaps the artist from ever growing his or her career beyond the association to American Idol. It's simply unconscionable for any artist whose career goals include longevity.

In other news, no word on whether Ruben Studdard successfully paid off the 200K in IRS taxes owed from his Idol winnings.

Not all "cheddar" is tasty.

The American Idol "management" deal is a contradiction in terms and a conflict of interests. A typical deal requires a "manager" to work on behalf of the client, to generate maximum business opportunities, revenue and best position the artist to succeed. The 19 Entertainment "management" deal precludes the artist largely from doing any outside the realm of American Idol-related or sponsored activities (i.e. Disney World Idol Experience, reunion tours, compilation CDs, etc.). The artist is not allowed to maximize his/her earnings potential, only the American Idol brand. That's not management, that's ownership and there is a distinct difference in the roles of an owner and a manager.

Just imagine if Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert were also in charge of managing LeBron James' career.

Exactly.

Keeping the seven-year management comparison going, now imagine if LeBron played all seven years in Cleveland under his rookie contract AND not renegotiated it after three with Gilbert as his manager/owner.  19 Entertainment wants all of its draft picks to play seven years for them under rookie contracts.

It's a bad idea and more importantly a bad deal when signed.

Does anyone actually believe that the American Idol brand will mean anything in 2018, much less have a TV show on Fox near the end of this decade? 2009 winner Kris Allen stands to suffer mightily for the next 5 years after his inauspicious musical debut. Will he be guaranteed some level of "work" with the American Idol franchise? Maybe in the short term, but it is laughable to argue Allen will ever be a priority for his "management" going forward. Every subsequent winner or newly-signed finalist would command a higher level of attention than the 2009 winner, including Allen's runner-up Adam Lambert who outsold him. Again... see Ruben Studdard (and his runner up Clay Aiken).

And speaking of Clay...

What has been less discussed is Aiken's successful lawsuit to be released from his 19 Entertainment contract and subsequent ban from all Idol-related events. Idol 4 finalist Mario Vazquez also sued to be released from the grip of 19 Entertainment. The added controversy was that Vazquez was rumored to have left the show early specifically because of the contract stipulations.

The underlying question to be asked is when exactly participants are approached to sign the management deal and whether that impacts the selection of its eventual winner.
The American Idol dangling carrot is in its national exposure for contestants, not its brand or management deal. The devil is definitely in the details.

Jacob Lusk is a bonafide star in his own right, not if and only if he entrusts his future to 19 Entertainment. His level of talent deserves the opportunity to seek out the best deal available to him, from a manager concerned with the fullness of JUST his career, not simply his first album and little more afterward. If signing with 19 Entertainment were a good idea, its Idol winners would neither sue to get out of their (bad) contracts or at the minimum re-sign at their expiration. History has spoken volumes.

Lusk has more star potential than the last three winners combined and those in the music industry already know this to be true. It is not in Lusk's best business interests to to have a producing arm of American Idol cater to its own interests in the development of his career.

You "think" you want Jacob Lusk to win American Idol... but really you don't. If you're like Mo'Kelly and truly rooting for Lusk, you will not root for him to "win" American Idol; you will root for his career to come into alignment with his immense talent. Winning American Idol will all but assure it doesn't and history has proven this to be true.

List of previous winners HERE.

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary.