Urban Idol: country rocker signs with American talent show

One of the music industry's worst-kept secrets was confirmed today - Keith Urban will join the judging panel of the US talent show juggernaut American Idol.

His appointment coincides with the hiring of another new judge, the American rapper Nicki Minaj, as well as previously announced recruit Mariah Carey.

Only one original Idol judge remains - Randy Jackson.

As part of Idol's doctrine, each judge now play a specified role: Urban brings musicality, Carey possesses star wattage, Jackson provides continuation for long-term fans and Minaj, well, she brings the crazy.

Speculation is rife about the salaries of the new judges. Certainly, financially speaking, the show's investment in Urban, Carey and Minaj is extraordinary. According to various sources, Urban is rumoured to be earning about $4 million, Minaj $8 million and Carey an eye-popping $17 million. As for Jackson, after a summer of discontent in which he was mooted to be sidelined to any off-camera role, he's just glad he was able to keep his job.

Urban's appointment is seen as a resounding endorsement of his work earlier this year on the inaugural Australian season of the rival franchise The Voice. Channel Nine may be indignant today, considering the show served as a virtual audition reel for this higher profile Idol slot.

When Urban was announced as a coach on The Voice last year, insiders suggested the New Zealand-born, Queensland-bred vocalist was openly exploiting the platform offered by the show with the chief aim of scoring a No. 1 on the Australian pop charts. (This goal was eventually achieved during the show's run).

Urban, it was implied, was determined to replicate his American success at home. And clearly, of all the judges Nine secured for The Voice, Urban was the biggest get. In fact Urban is a significantly bigger name than even The Voice's US 'country' coach, Blake Shelton.

"I was reticent to do it because of that," Urban told this reporter earlier in the year. "I'm not the kind of guy who wants to do something after the fact."

With a role on American Idol now, which despite consecutive years of declining ratings is still comfortably the most popular show on US free-to-air television, he instantly surpasses Shelton's audience reach. Perhaps that was the plan all along?

Indeed, Urban joins Idol just as it reaches a critical juncture. The show began as a summer schedule-filler back in 2002, before it swiftly expanded its reach and within a couple of years grew into an era-defining blockbuster.

However the gradual departure of its original judging panel - first Paula Abdul in 2009 and then, most significantly, Simon Cowell a year later, led to a steady diluting of its audience and status.

Ill-fated appointments such as Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi did not help and even the drafting of musical superstars Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler could not stem the tide.

Yet, although a few rivals such as The Big Bang Theory are snapping at its heels, Idol has remained the No. 1 American show - just.

In Australia, American Idol screens on Foxtel a few hours after it airs in the US. The Australian pay TV company will surely be pleased with an Australian judge on the show.

Urban was impressive on The Voice. While several coaches deliver earnest, long-winded answers that provide much work for the show's editors, he was cherished by production staff for his succinct critiques.

Where it leaves the Australian production is another question. Scuttlebutt says that Nine has attempted to woo Kylie Minogue to join next year's panel of coaches but for various reasons - including her sister's role on rival show Australia's Got Talent - she declined. Urban's departure though will surely see Nine re-engaging with Minogue's management - and, perhaps, upping its offer.

The story Urban Idol: country rocker signs with American talent show first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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