Who knew there was so much drama behind the scenes of American Idol?
The show premiered 15 years ago under the direction of Mike Darnell, Fox's president of alternative programming. In May 2013, he ended his 18-year run with the network to join his former boss Peter Roth at Warner Bros. In a wide-ranging interview, Darnell sat down with Love Connection host Andy Cohen at the TV Academy Wednesday to tell secrets from the set.
In its prime, the show pulled in 38 million viewers. By the end, ratings dipped as low as 8 million.
Here, E! News shares five of the secrets exposed during the Q&A:
1. Ryan Seacrest Nearly Blew His Shot at Hosting
Seacrest's dad—who was also his manager at the time—initially turned down the opportunity of a lifetime. "He wasn't going to come in," Darnell said of Seacrest, who was working in radio and hosting the TNN reality series Ultimate Revenge. "I had to literally get on the phone with his father." Seacrest and Brian Brian Dunkleman were brought on as co-presenters, but only Seacrest remained with the show for all 15 seasons. As Darnell laughed, "He's doing fine now!"
Michael Becker / FOX
2. Special Security Was Hired for Simon Cowell
The Brit's acerbic judging style was ratings gold, but his blunt delivery didn't always sit well with viewers in the show's early days. According to producer Nigel Lythgoe, Cowell was once "booed" in the first season, "and somebody was threatening to take him out with a baseball bat in New York." To ensure Cowell's safety, Lythgoe said, "We had to hire an entire security team."
3. Jennifer Lopez's Contract Negotiations Were a "Nightmare"
Aerosmith's Steven Tyler joined the show in Season 10, as did J.Lo—but getting her to sign on the dotted line was no easy feat. "You could sense she wanted to do it," Darnell recalled, "but it was a nightmare. Her agents, they just didn't want her to do it: 'It's going to ruin your movie career.'" So, Darnell "fed her a load of bullsh--t" about endorsement possibilities and music prospects. "Your singing career is going to be on fire again!" he told her. "And goddamn if it didn't come true." After she was hired, he "got a lot of calls from people saying she was a diva." In truth, Lopez was "the most professional, wonderful person I've worked with in the business."
Michael Becker / FOX
4. Mariah Carey Instigated the Nicki Minaj Feud
Season 12 was the first and last for both Carey and Minaj, whose leaked on-set argument was "raw and real," Darnell said. "The one you think was the problem—she wasn't the problem." Lythgoe piped in, saying, "Nicki was not the problem...There are tapes buried in chainsaw." As for how one of the tapes leaked, Darnell said, "Honestly, the answer is we don't know." Even so, he called it a "nightmare experience"—a sentiment Carey, Lithgoe and Minaj surely share.
5. The Show Was Sinking Like The Titanic
Leaving Fox—and the show—eventually became a no-brainer. "I had seen Idol coming down for three years...I could feel it. It was the Titanic," Darnell said. "Once it was starting to sink, it was going [fast]. It was a cash bonanza for the network, and then all of a sudden it was collapsing. My job became to fix Idol, and there was no fixing Idol, because Idol wasn't broken; it was old."