Composer and producer Ray Chew, also an accomplished keyboardist, is in his third season as musical director of “American Idol.” — SUBMITTED PHOTO
Having put his musical stamp on such major productions the 2008 Democratic National Convention, President Obama’s Inaugural Neighborhood Ball, the Grammy Awards and “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” musician, composer and producer Ray Chew has now turned to mentoring the next generation of artists as the musical director of “American Idol.” Now in his third season with the popular singing competition, Chew took the baton when Ricky Minor left to fill Kevin Eubanks’ coveted position as the bandleader on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“They did a ‘short list’ search,” Chew explained in a recent interview. “They were looking for somebody looking for somebody that was highly qualified and coveted as a musical director, but somebody that also had specific skills with working with the talent in a contest. I probably had the best pedigree of anybody, having spent all those years with ‘Showtime.’ They’re very similar in terms of you don’t have a lot of time to put the stuff together and have it come out great, and we’re doing it in front of a live audience.”
Assisted by a team of assistant musical directors, vocal coaches and rehearsal pianists, Chew is charged with the responsibility of helping the singers prepare for their weekly performances.
“They’re learning what it takes to achieve at this level,” he said. “Most of them have never sung with a band before, and most of them have never been outside the comfort of whatever situation they’re in. So this is a whole new experience, and you multiply that by the competition, the pace of it, the lights, the cameras — a lot of the contestants are very nervous. It’s my job to continue to motivate them, keep them calm, assure them that it’s going to be fine.”
Even for someone like Chew, an accomplished keyboardist who is used to working in front of an audience, live television is fraught challenges.
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