The musical puppeteer behind ‘American Idol’ on Claudia Conway and a close call with disaster

On Sunday final of American Idol, there was a slight snafu. Arthur Gunn, finalist and fan favorite from last season, was scheduled to perform alongside Sheryl Crow, playing a mix of her greatest hits. But at the last minute and without explanation, he didn’t. Yet the show must still go on.

Instead, this season’s Top 16 contender Graham DeFranco has been pulled from the public to take Gunn’s place. It was such a “curved ball” even that American Idol ‘S musical director Kristopher Pooley says he was left in the dark about what happened.

“It’s live TV and all kinds of things can happen,” he told The Daily Beast. “We were suddenly told Graham was going to do the song. I think he only got a few minutes’ notice. Graham appeared on live television in front of millions of people and sang a duet with Sheryl Crow.

“We threw the lyrics on the teleprompter,” he added. “He was saying what his words were and what Sheryl’s words were. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go. In our show there are moments of organic music going left and right, so we have to be on our toes. “

The surprises of live TV were one of the most intimidating things Pooley braced for when he joined American Idol in 2018. The Detroit native handles all music-related aspects of the singing competition, including arrangements, vocal coaches and music producers. He even quotes singers, managing over 50 musicians and contestants and learning up to 70 songs a day.

Pooley was Music Director on Music tours and performances, including for Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani and Demi Lovato. But American IdolStreaming live to millions of viewers is a whole different beast.

“The unknown can be intimidating, but I felt excited,” he explained. “I have a whole music team and I felt really confident that we could step in and do a great job. There’s a real learning curve to the show, so probably our first few episodes, our heads were spinning. Then once we got settled into the first season it got a lot easier.

Pooley managed to land the job after the show’s main producers were impressed with Judge Katy Perry’s tours and called for a reunion. “It was just a good fit, we got it right away,” he said. “Then it was just right to work on the show.”

His work begins at Hollywood Week, where hundreds of hopeful contestants are flown from across the country to California for an intensive training camp where they must learn new songs, perform duets with strangers and dazzle the judges. with their solo performances with the aim of obtaining a coveted place in live shows. Pooley helps compile a master list of songs that singers, which span a wide range of genres, can perform for Judges Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan.

From there, Pooley and his team help contestants find arrangements and work with vocal coaches to nail their performances. It was during Hollywood Week that Pooley met Claudia Conway, the daughter of former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and her anti-Trump husband George Conway. “She was great,” Pooley offered. “I was really, really surprised how well she could sing.”

“It’s really exciting because a lot of them don’t yet know how awesome they are,” Pooley added, speaking of the influx of newcomers to the industry on the show. “They know they have a talent. They have ambition, they know they want to try this American Idol thing, but they come from an environment where they don’t have access to any type of arrangement or coaching. So, it’s really cool to see artists take their power. “

Pooley said he has no predictions on who will win the title this year, explaining that his team treats every competitor as if they are going to win. “We put the same amount of energy and effort into everyone,” he said. “I don’t try to think too much about the TV side and showbiz. I’m like, “How do I make them the best they can be?” Then we see what viewers decide. It’s always fascinating.

It was ultimately Chayce Beckham who was named the winner of Season 19, which ended on Sunday. The 24-year-old has already seen a taste of success with his new song “23” which on Monday earned iTunes No. 1 for Country Music and No. 2 for Best Songs.

Since its launch in 2002, American Idol has helped produce notable country stars including Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery and Kellie Pickler. Pooley believes this is the result of the audience’s appeal to storytelling, which is a staple of country music.

Earlier this month, the 16-year-old country singer Caleb kennedy was dropped from the ABC show after making his Top 5 entry when a music video began circulating online where he was seen sitting next to someone wearing a Ku Klux Klan style balaclava.

He even quotes singers, managing over 50 musicians and contestants and learning up to 70 songs a day.

“Hey all of you, it’s gonna be a bit of a surprise, but I won’t be sure American IdolThe fan favorite wrote in an Instagram statement. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet, and it showed actions that weren’t meant to be taken that way. I was younger and didn’t think about stocks, but that’s no excuse. I want to say sorry to all my fans and everyone I have let down. I’m going to take some time outside of social media to improve myself, but in saying this I know it has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I am really sorry! I pray that one day I will be able to regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thanks for putting up with me. “

His mother Anita Guy later mentionned the video was shot when Kennedy was 12 and after watching the movie Aliens: prey at night, adding that her son “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

Pooley was reluctant to say if he thought the show had made the right decision regarding Kennedy’s firing from the show, saying the issue was “complicated.”

“I also think redemption is central human history,” he said. “There’s always hope. He’s obviously super talented and I wish him the best, but as far as you know, a good or a bad decision, I’m just making music.

While it’s not yet officially a deal done, Pooley said he looks forward to the prospect of returning next year for the show’s 20th season. “It’s an exciting time for the show,” said Pooley. “I think we are coming out a bit high with this final. So yeah, if they want me to come back and we do another season.

While American Idol is one of his career highlights, Pooley has taken other milestones as well, including the musical staging of Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime in 2015, as well as his inaugural performance for the President Joe Biden in January.

“It was very surreal working on that,” Pooley recalls, referring to the opening where Perry sang “Firework” in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “Seeing something that starts from an idea that Katy has and then I put music together for, to be part of a moment in history, which felt like a release of tension that day. . We wanted to create a moment of hope that whatever you believe politically, on either side, just to celebrate our country. The goal was to be an inspiration and to have a hopeful tone. “

“I just feel grateful and surprised at the opportunities that are available to me and all the artists I work with,” he added. “I’m just thankful for where I am and I don’t take anything for granted. I try to recognize that the career is a very small slice of life. So I’m grateful for those moments, but I’m also just as grateful for spending time with my daughter and wife.

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