Randy Jackson is probably famous for very different reasons for you, depending on your age. To younger people, he’s known almost exclusively for his stint as a judge on American Idol. But during the 80s, Jackson was an incredibly prolific bassist and producer.
His career has gone a lot of different places, which leaves some people wondering where it’s going to go now that American Idol is done for good.
Randy Jackson’s Early Life
Randall Darius Jackson was born in 1956 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Not that much is known about his life before he became involved in the music industry. His mother was a homemaker, while his father worked as a foreman at a manufacturing plant. Through his 20s Jackson had small gigs working as a studio bassist, but it wasn’t until he started working with Jean-Luc Ponty that his career started to take off.
Jean-Luc Ponty, a violin virtuoso, and prolific jazz composer used Randy Jackson on three albums in the early 80s. This springboarded him into other session performances. In 1985 he was commissioned by Keith Richards to compose and perform a song for Whoopi Goldberg’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a spy comedy.
Jackson used the connections he’d made working with Jean-Luc Ponty to pull together a band of famous musicians for the Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The group included Aretha Franklin, who used the song on her eponymous 1986 album, Aretha.
By 1986, Randy Jackson was well-known within the music industry and did session work for dozens of albums through the close of the decade. He worked with Journey for Raised on Radio, was on several Kenny G albums, a few Bon Jovi tracks, a couple of songs from Herbie Hancock, as well as George Michael, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen. There are frankly too many acts to list, but those are some of the more well-known.
In 1988, he moved to Italy to work with Zucchero, a contemporary Italian pop sensation. Their record, Zucchero and the Randy Jackson Band, helped introduce Jackson’s production style to Continental Europe, and arguably helped move Europop toward the electronic style it was known for through the 90s.
By the time the 90s were here, Randy Jackson had cemented his reputation as an iconic producer and bassist. He worked with ‘N Sync, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Céline Dion, and Fergie, among other less-famous acts. By the end of the decade, however, he’d lost a lot of his public fame, operating more behind-the-scenes than he had in the 80s.
Randy Jackson on American Idol
When American Idol premiered on June 11, 2002, its three judges weren’t well-known to its target demographic. Paula Abdul’s dance & music career had reached public notoriety back in the 80s, around the same time Randy Jackson was most famous. Simon Cowell had never been as famous as Jackson or Abdul but did have over two decades of experience working as a record executive.
American Idol has been described both as “unparalleled” and the “most impactful” show to ever be televised. In addition to holding down top ratings for most of its 14-year run, the show’s contestants went on to release a cumulative 345 Billboard hits. Numerous pop idols came from the show. A few of the most notable are Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Ruben Studdard, Chris Daughtry, and Kelly Clarkson.
From its second until ninth season, American Idol had at least one episode that was #1 in the U.S. ratings. Part of the show’s success was due to the contrasting personalities that Abdul, Jackson, and Cowell provided.
Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell served as foils to each other. While Cowell was often perceived as overly critical and mean, Abdul offered almost never-ending praise of the various contestants. Jackson fit in uniquely as a counter to both of them, often providing the most realistic and useful criticism. This is probably why Jackson was the longest-lasting of the original judges; he stuck with it for twelve seasons, before shifting his role to serve as a mentor for the 2014 season. After that season, he left the show for good.
In 2013, the show’s ratings started to fall, and continued to fall. Viewership fell to about a third of what it was during the show’s peak by the 2015 season, and Fox announced the show’s fifteenth season, which aired from January to April of this year, was going to be the last.
What’s Randy Jackson Doing Now in 2018 – Recent Updates
After leaving American Idol, Randy Jackson went back to doing what he’d been doing well for years: working behind the scenes, helping guide musicians in a direction that would leave them commercially viable, but also producing products with artistic merit.
Most recently, he’s worked with Sammi Sanchez, a rising young pop idol. Appealing to Latin-American audiences in the U.S., Sanchez represents the best of a post-Idol star. She doesn’t have a compelling made-for-TV back story; some heartbreaking story of overcoming triumph with art. She rose up through the crowd of YouTube cover videos, releasing her first original song on Radio Disney in 2014.
That caught Jackson’s attention, and after seeing her live in Los Angeles, he fell in love with her on-stage persona. The two have been working closely together to produce her first EP. There’s no release date set, but given normal production times, it will probably come out in November, in time to be promoted onto the radio by next spring.
Considering Randy Jackson earned $10 million for most seasons of American Idol, he has a net worth of up possibly $140 million, including royalties from his production and session work in the 80s and 90s. So it’s no surprise he’s virtually retired, focusing instead on mentoring one artist that caught his eye.
Outside of helping Sammi Sanchez build her career, Jackson also recently organized a benefit concert in his hometown of Baton Rouge with Harry Connick Jr. (who also was a mentor on American Idol) to raise money in the wake of the recent flooding. The concert, “Louisiana Rising,” will take place on September 5, and broadcast on local television stations. Some of the announced acts are Better Than Ezra, MacKenzie Bourg, Luther Kent, Sonny Landreth, and Rockin’ Dopsie. As the concert gets closer, more acts are expected to to be added.