Linda Perry, the Grammy-nominated music producer and 4 Non Blondes founder who hass worked with P!nk, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Dolly Parton, the Chicks, and many others, is chatting with Yahoo Entertainment during a virtual panel for the SCAD ATVfest, promoting her new score for Peacock’s Punky Brewster reboot. But since this is television-centric event spanning her entire career, the conversation eventually turns to her VH1 reality series, Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project.
That program, which focused on the mentoring process in Perry’s recording studio, was totally different from typical talent shows like American Idol and The Voice (in fact, in its cold open, Perry made a snarky remark about “spinning chairs”) and only lasted one season. But looking back, Perry says her “intentions were good” and she still steadfastly believes that if she were one of the judges on Idol, it would be a sensation.
“I’m a star, and I wish American Idol, I wish and pray to God right now, that they would just call me and put me on that show, because I am fed up with that s***,” says Perry, whose opinion of mainstream TV talent competitions clearly hasn’t changed much since The Linda Perry Project aired in 2014. “I’m fed up with it. Come on, people, come on. Are you really going to carry this message of falseness and gloss and just non-reality for all these years? … You put me on for one show, and I’ll show you what ‘reality’ TV really is and what giving kids actual information and critiques and helping them go to the next level really looks like and sounds like. Because what you’re doing, it’s only for yourself. It’s only for the judges. It has nothing to do with those poor kids that are putting themselves out there. They’ll be walking away with nothing. I’ll tell you that they’re walking away losers, no matter who wins.”
If the Idol producers were ever willing to accept Perry’s challenge to cast her on the show, she’d likely be pigeonholed as the “new Simon Cowell,” a.k.a. the token “mean judge.” But that’s a role she’d be totally comfortable taking on. “I am the mean one!” she laughs. “Because you know what ‘mean’ actually is, right? It means it’s being the honestone. You’re the honest one, so you’re the ‘villain.’ You’re the ‘mean guy,’ because everybody else is lying and they’re trying to make themselves look good on TV and crying and having these emotional breakthroughs or breakdowns or whatever you want to call it.
“It takes a lot of balls to be honest about things that other people don’t want to say,” continues Perry, who has spent decades in showbiz speaking her mind and going against the grain. “It takes a big person to raise their hand, knowing that the president of the record company loves this act and loves this song, and he’s asking, ‘Don’t you guys all agree?’ and everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, boss!’ It takes a ballsy person to raise their hand and say, ‘Actually, I don’t agree, and this is the reason why I don’t agree.’”
That being said, Perry would never be the token villain judge just for the sake of good TV. “Putting somebody down and not giving them a reason why is a problem for me,” she stresses. “If we are really trying to help these kids, I would say, ‘Listen, I get it. I see your passion. I see you want to do this. But here’s the deal. You’re a bar band. You’re not going to go anywhere, because you don’t have the personality that it takes.’ Talent is one thing. But having charisma and rock-star personality, that’s a whole other thing. These two go hand-in-hand. So if you just ‘got talent,’ that’s not enough. You gotta have a personality.”
And that’s the big Catch-22. Programs like American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor, and America’s Got Talent are entirely based on the idea that anybody, the average girl or boy next door with a dream, could be the next pop superstar — and Perry simply doesn’t believe that’s true.
“These people that they are pulling off of the streets that look like anybody, they’re not going to go anywhere, because those are the only people they can get. … The Patti Smiths, Rolling Stones, they’re not the kinds of kids that are going to be waiting in line to get on American Idol. It’s all the rejects… their moms are telling them they’re popular or they sound great. It’s the non-starters that make it on American Idol,” Perry says.
“Now, if I were a judge on American Idol, they would get actually better people. There would be more quality, because I would stand tall and stand strong on something like that,” Perry asserts. “Put me on. I dare you, American Idol.”
It remains to be see if American Idol will respond to Perry’s dare, but she certainly has a lot to bring to the judging table. In the meantime, Idol is set to return this Sunday with Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan, who have been the regular judges since the series was rebooted by ABC three years ago. The Punky Brewster reboot, featuring Perry’s original score, premieres on Peacock Feb. 25.
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