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Rickey Minor talks new 'Tonight Show' gig, current season of 'Idol': 'They just have to break out of their shells'

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Rickey-Minor

Image Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty ImagesRickey Minor might have landed his new gig just over 24 hours ago, but The Tonight Show has been on his mind for decades. “As a kid, watching [The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson bandleader] Doc Severinsen, I can’t say that I wasn’t enamored with it,” Minor tells EW. “What musician is not looking at this institution, one of the iconic shows that has live music?” And now, since Minor will be following in Severinsen’s and, more recently, Kevin Eubanks’ footsteps as The Tonight Show‘s bandleader, he’s prepared for the work ahead, which includes fostering a relationship with the show’s host, Jay Leno. “It’s like a marriage, but unlike a marriage, you really don’t have a dating period,” Minor says. “You just have to start living together right away.” Not that Minor’s worried about developing chemistry with Leno. “It’s gonna take a little time,” he says. “But I’m a pretty funny guy. So I don’t see it taking that long.”

Of course, since The Tonight Show will take up most of his time once rehearsals begin May 31, Minor is saying goodbye to his other high-profile job: American Idol‘s bandleader. “I look at it as a graduation of sorts,” he says. “Like graduating college. You can’t be a life-time college student. So I have my Masters from Idol, and now I’m going on to get my PhD at The Tonight Show. If you don’t go, you won’t grow.” Ditto for Fox’s powerhouse singing competition show. With both Minor and Simon Cowell leaving next season, American Idol will feel a whole lot different to fans and future contestants. But, according to Minor, that’s a positive thing. “Change is good,” he says. “All of us have the propensity to let something go stale. New energy to infuse some new ideas and attitude is good for everyone.”

So does Minor think this season of Idol is a weak one, a popular opinion held by many fans and critics? Not necessarily. The musician says the contestants this season are suffering more from nerves than in seasons past. “You’re going to automatically compare the seasons as you go. The season of Carrie, the season of Daughtry, the season of Kelly…but it’s a lot of pressure,” says Minor, who also points out the season boasts more singer-songwriters. “The show is so huge, it’s hard for anyone to really find their voice because of all the criticism, and you don’t really know who you are. [After performances], I say to them, ‘What happened? In rehearsal and sound check, you were ridiculous!’ But the nerves start happening. They just have to break out of their shells.”

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