Meet the Step Sing 2022 judges: Why the famed American Idol producer and singer loves Birmingham talent

I had to take a selfie, of course! (Olivia Moses / Bham Now)

Alabama is no stranger to homegrown talent. From American Idol season two winner Reuben Studdard to season five winner Taylor Hicks, we’ve proven that the musical magic of the Southeast isn’t limited to our Nashville neighbors.

We had the chance to sit down with these top talents to hear their thoughts on Birmingham and the incredible tradition that is Samford University’s Step Sing and how it encourages the Birmingham community.

The soundtrack of their life

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A little photo session before getting ready for the big show tonight. (Olivia Moses / Bham Now)

Simon Lythgoe and Jan Smith come from very different backgrounds and have soared independently in their careers, but were brought to this hill in Alabama to judge one of Samford’s oldest and most cherished traditions: Step Sing.

Both neutral observers, these judges are eager to judge the events that will unfold on January 28 and 29. Hundreds of students will take to this stage in hopes of winning it all – the coveted Step Sing Trophy.

Simon, who is no stranger to the commercial music industry, was basically born on set. He debuted on “American Gladiators” and “Pop Stars” which in turn became American Idol. He brought it to the United States where it became the hit it is today, although no network originally wanted it back. His career then took off and he was thrilled to work on his new project on Disney Plus.

Jan “Mama Jan” Smith is a Grammy-nominated multi-platinum certified vocal coach/vocal producer with some of her clients including Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, The Band Perry and many more.

I think he [music] is very powerful and it is the soundtrack of our lives. So I hope that by singing, they will have an experience on stage that will inspire them to be better. But also that everyone has a song in their heart and that music affects us all.

– “Mama Jan” Smith, singer-songwriter/musician

Is Birmingham the next talent goldmine?


Simon made a profound statement during our interview: “Without a doubt, we have more talent on American Idol from Birmingham, Alabama than any other state. All these lovely people. Incredible news for American Idol hopefuls. While Step Sing is filled with Samford students who are not gifted in the areas of song and dance, professionals can smell the talent coming from our state.

We’re honored he thinks so, especially after telling us that Samford University was the best thing he’s seen in Birmingham so far, almost giving it a semblance of England. What a compliment, Samford!

It’s Simon’s first trip to Birmingham in over 20 years for their 2002 auditions, and he’s been amazed at the growth and revitalization of the city since his last visit.

I’m told this town has changed a lot and the restaurants are fantastic as well as the food here now. I love barbecue, so…

-Simon Lythgoe, American Idol, producer

Don’t worry Birmingham, we’ve pointed it to the right place with our guides.

Listen and learn… from the pros

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If you’ve never been to the Samford Art Gallery, you have to check it out. (Olivia Moses / Moses)

Step Sing is only half of what they are there for. In addition to spending their nights at the Wright Center, Lythgoe and Smith will also talk to students in Samford’s Commercial Music Program and teach them about their music and television pursuits. Rueben Studdard will also be invited on Saturday.

“We really want to engage with the community and let the community know that Samford is about this industry and into the 21st century in terms of music and entertainment industry engagement. We want to be a resource for students considering this venture. Bringing people like that is really helpful. Not just for students, but for the legitimacy of the program and the addition of student touchpoints. »

Stephen Potaczek MS, Samford University School of the Arts, Commercial Music Program Director.

A program of this magnitude is definitive for the region. The Commercial Music program focuses on four different areas: music business, performance, songwriting and music production – perfect for up-and-coming musician entrepreneurs.

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