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A Helluva High Note: Surviving Life, Love, and American Idol

"American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi tells the public about her life, her work, and how it felt to get the cold shoulder from Simon Cowell.

By / May 4, 2011

A Helluva High Note: Surviving Life, Love, and American Idol By Kara DioGuardi HarperCollins 240 pp.


Kara DioGuardi entered the collective consciousness of American pop culture when she was cast as the fourth judge on the reality show “American Idol” during its eighth season. Though well known within the music industry, DioGuardi remained a bit of a mystery to the American public even after two seasons on one of the biggest shows on television. Now, with the release of her first book and memoir, A Helluva High Note, she introduces herself to readers.

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The bulk of the narrative is sandwiched between DioGuardi’s experiences with “American Idol,” beginning with the news that she was being fired from the show in 2010 and then ending with her reflections on her two seasons. It’s a smart move since, despite a résumé of industry names that would make even Randy Jackson envious, “American Idol” is what made DioGuardi a household name.

The actual experiences of those in the spotlight are rarely the fairy tales they are made out to be. DioGuardi walks us through the highs and lows of her “American Idol” journey, though truth be told, it comprised mainly lows, especially in her first season. DioGuardi writes, “As far as I am concerned, American Idol Season 8 might as well have been called Survivor. Every moment was mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging.”

According to DioGuardi, she was thrust into the spotlight with staggeringly little preparation, a fact that – along with her lifelong struggle with “extreme stage fright” – she claims contributed largely to an underwhelming debut season. But, she says, she was not the only one who was unprepared for her arrival on the show. Although Simon Cowell interviewed her in June 2008, she says that fellow judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul were unaware of the addition of a fourth judge until the day before auditions began.

DioGuardi describes her struggles to fit into a judging panel that had seven years of experience working together. Through her retellings, Cowell comes across as every bit the prima donna the public suspected he was. In addition to giving her the cold shoulder, Cowell often criticized DioGuardi both on camera and off, making a challenging situation nearly unbearable for the new judge. Although she was a successful music publisher in her own right, she recounts her desperate attempts to gain Cowell’s approval, stating that, “the key to gelling with the panel was Simon.” DioGuardi believes that it wasn’t until the finale of Season 8 that she gained that approval.


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