Dicko Comes to America

The challenge for FOX's new talent show "The Next Great American Band" is evident in the fact that only four out of the Top 20 recordings on the latest Billboard album chart come from bands, rather than solo artists.

"I think it's much easier to market solo artists these days," acknowledges Ian Dickson, one of "Next Great American Band" judges. "I don't think it's that people don't want bands. I think it's that the record industry has consolidated and rationalized so much that it just goes for the easy buck these days. The industry's in such strife that the marketeers and the money men, they just head for the safe ground and solo artists are easier to plunge into the market."

The British-born Dicko, as his friends and enemies call him, moved to Australia to work as a marketing executive for Sony BMG, but became a household name Down Under as the Simon Cowell proxy on "Australian Idol." Dicko shies from the idea that shows like "Idol," in all of its worldwide permutations, are directly responsible for a musical environment that's hostile to bands as the expense of disposable pop tartlets.

"I don't know if they've caused the problem. I think 'Idol' is more of a result than a cause," he explains. "I think the industry has become so tough that when somebody had the great idea of turning TV into an A&R process and creating a phenomenon that shoots an artist out into the marketplace at great velocity, in a profit-driven business, who's not going to want to do that?"

"The Next Great American Band," from the producers of "Idol," will attempt to stem the tide, to use TV as A&R for bands, rather than karaoke solo singers.

"I think we've created a final group of bands that really reflect a wide musical heritage across America. We've bluegrass guys, country guys from Nashville, a brilliant rock/R&B fusion band from D.C., a great girl punk group," Dicko says. "It's really how they resonate with the American public on a weekly level given the banana skins we're going to be presenting them with for theme shows."

As with "Idol," the "Band" contestants will have to show flexibility outside of their comfortable genres, performing weekly themes. Dicko knows, though, that whoever wins still won't have an easy path to stardom.

"They'll certainly get the profile, but let's not hide from this, most contestants on talent shows get teased in the playground," he says. "They never get the dues that they deserve, because the guys who came through the tradition route are so sniffy about it. We see this on 'Idol' as well. We get some older contestants who've tried and failed in the regular industry and they turn up slightly cap-in-hand to 'Idol' auditions as though it's an entertainment version of a soup kitchen and we're having handouts. But there's no need for that. These days, to be that sniffy, it's kind of retrogressive really. It's a phenomenon and we can't turn back the clock."

Dicko knows the role he's played in that phenomenon, as Australia's "Mr. Nasty," a part he relishes.

"I realized doing 'Australian Idol' that I've been a liar all my life," he says. "I realized the record industry is just full of liars. We lie to the artists, the managers, media, the retailers, the public and to our own staff. It's a liars' business, so it was quite odd to get the discipline to tell someone the truth to their face. It's quite dehumanizing at first and then you get the first whiff of blood in your nostrils and you're away."

Of course, it's almost impossible to have a televised talent show without one acerbic British judge.

"It's easier to hate someone from overseas, isn't it?" Dicko cracks. "I was a little bit nervous at first because with the likes of Simon and Nigel Lythgoe on 'So You Think You Can Dance' and Piers Morgan on 'America's Got Talent,' I was a bit worried that this was a role that was pre-ordained in some ways. I would like to think that I can live in the moment and be fresh."

Being the judge FOX hopes audiences will love to hate may take a different kind of toll on Dicko. He'll perform his "Australian Idol" duties on Sunday and Monday, do local radio on Tuesday morning, hop a plane to Los Angeles for the Friday airing of "American Band," then fly back to Australia immediately to repeat.

"My manager, who has never been one to miss a chance to earn a dollar, has got me a job as cabin girl on both legs as well," he deadpans. "I'll be handing out nuts and apples at the back of the plane."

Don't think he isn't excited, though, to try to make his name on this side of The Pond.

"I've got to admit I'm feeling a bit of a tingle. I've tried to be dead cool about it up to now, but the prospect of coming and appearing on a U.S. TV show's got me tingling like a 13-year-old girl on a first date."

"The Next Great American Band" premieres on FOX on Friday, Oct. 19, 2007.