Q&A with Randy Jackson

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Randy Jackson

Simon's the nasty one, Paula's the supportive one and Randy's the moderate one, the cool judge whose laid-back style and constructive criticism tend to strike a more reasoned note when the other two go over the top, which they often do. Like Simon and Paula, Randy Jackson has become a celebrity in his own right judging hundreds of warbling American Idol wannabes each week on Fox's unbeatable talent competition, which has steamrolled into its sixth season, debuting with its highest ratings ever. TIME's Jeanne McDowell talked to Jackson — the man who introduced "dawg" and "pitchy" into the lexicon — about a new Idol season, what Simon says and being a top "dawg" on primetime's biggest hit.

TIME: How is the new Idol season going so far?

Jackson: It started off with a bang. It's still about trying to discover the best new talent we can find. People either love the early rounds or hate them. There's no middle ground. I think the early rounds show the audience what we actually go through before we get to the finalists. We show them the good, the bad, the everything.

Is it still fun for you?

It's the best job ever. It never gets old for me.

Minneapolis, which was the first city this season, seemed to have an overabundance of untalented people.

Yeah, the bad seemed to outweigh the good. But when you have a show where the winner gets instant fame and money, it's like people signing up to play Lotto. Everybody takes a shot.

What do you think (to yourself) when you hear some of these people with awful voices?

Someone said to me yesterday, "how do you let these people come on?" But I don't ask them. That's why we call them delusional. They have no idea if they're good or bad, and half of these people don't care. But this is what we [the judges] see at the start of the journey that leads to the prize. We take you along on the journey.

In the first week of Idol, who especially made you laugh?

The one who makes me laugh the hardest is Simon Cowell. I'm always shocked at what comes out of his mouth. Wow! But in his defense, he's just speaking openly and honestly.

What do you think of former Idol Jennifer Hudson's success as a star in Dreamgirls?

I love her. She's the epitome of what this show is about. It's about getting your struggle on. She was in the top 10 (on Idol) and did really well. Now she's a superstar. She found her niche and it found her.

Who's your all-time favorite Idol winner?

There are three for me. Carrie Underwood because she knew who she was. She knew she was a country music girl. She made the right kind of record and it was the biggest debut record in Idol history. Kelly Clarkson also knew who she was and has done her thing. And from a pure talent level I also love Fantasia. Her version of "Summertime" was the best Idol performance ever. It was crazy.

Give us a sneak preview of what's coming up on Idol.

Birmingham [Alabama] is good.

How has Idol changed your life?

It's made me more recognizable, a celebrity. But it's helped me in other ways. I've started a TV production company at Warner Brothers and am working on a bunch of shows, scripted and reality.

What's the magic of Idol?

It's about America picking who they like and they've gotten it right every time. People chose talent above everything else. It doesn't matter if someone is fat or skinny. That's what makes it great for me. It's about the end product.

Speaking of fat and skinny, how are you keeping the weight off?

I'm working out and trying to be diet conscious. It's all about diet and exercise and it will always be about that.