The final ''American Idol'' song: How is it selected? 19 Management's Iain Pirie tells Michael Endelman about the arduous process of picking another ''Moment Like This''

By Michael Endelman
May 18, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Just days away from crowning a new winner of American Idol, Iain Pirie from 19 Management — the firm to which all the show’s artists are signed — talked to EW.com about the process of picking the song. You know, that absolute final moment when the Idol will sing what will become the country’s new favorite anthem (at least until next year)…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the criteria for picking the final song?
IAIN PIRIE It’s got to be a new composition. For the past two to three months, we’ve been looking for songs that suit that moment. It has to reflect the emotional journey that the viewers and the contestants have gone through. As a TV moment, it has to feel like an emotional conclusion. It has to be something that we hope is going to work at radio when the show is over. And equally, it has to be a song that fits the contestant. And when we start picking, we don’t know who the finalists will be. That’s the challenge.

How many songs do you go through?
It seems like millions. We’ve gone through, like, 200 songs. We have different ones that will work for a male, a female, uptempo, downtempo, ballads, and so on.

How do you find the songs?
We solicit them from all over. We get songs from the most established, successful songwriters in the country, to those just starting out. All trying to encapsulate that moment of standing on the stage after winning and performing that winners song.

Are the songs written specifically for Idol?
I would say about 95 percent of the stuff we consider was written for this moment, usually with one or two of the contestants in mind.

Do you listen to all of them?
What you really want to do is get to the end of the first chorus, and then you’ll know if it’ll work or not. That’s how the viewer is going to experience it. There’s not a lot of value in playing something 20 times to try to figure out if it’s right or not. If you haven’t figured it out within the first three listens, then it probably isn’t.

The final weeks of the show must be pretty hectic for you.
Yeah. To stick to the timeline, we actually record vocals with the top three, and when the third one is eliminated, then you’ve got two finished masters. Then the minute you have a winner on the finale, it can go right to the factory.

Can you find a song to fit two very different finalists?
That’s the challenge, because you have to have a song that suits them equally. That’s what’s difficult about it.

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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