Steven Tyler is in promotion mode, but it’s difficult to tell if the Aerosmith singer is promoting American Idol, where he and Jennifer Lopez are to be the new Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, or if he is using television’s highest-rated show over the last nine seasons running to promote himself.
After nearly 40 years fronting the American version of The Rolling Stones, a characterization that has been viewed alternately as either a diss or praise, Tyler, 62, still feels like he needs to get his name out there more. That may be due, in part, to the fact that Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry in 2009 questioned Tyler’s commitment to the band and threatened to replace him over his side projects.
With an album due later this year, the last it’s obligated to deliver under its contract with Sony Music, Aerosmith’s days could be numbered. With this as the backdrop, the music legend sat down with The Daily Beast to discuss his singular transformation from rock-star-in-full to judge on one of the most family-friendly shows on television.
Prediction time: Is this season of American Idol going to beat last season in the ratings?
You know, I didn’t watch the show much before. I didn’t watch it more than once or twice or three times and I didn’t allow myself to get involved with the kids and the build up, you know what I mean? But, yes, people are going to watch it. I watched a trailer for the first 10 minutes last night, and with the talent we found, that will be enough to get you to watch.
Will Idol get more viewers than Simon Cowell’s X Factor when it premieres?
How can I say that? I don’t know who he’s going to bring on there. Who knows what he’s got in mind.
Oh come on, don’t get timid on me. You’re known for your bravado.
[Laughs] Yeah, but I don’t want to be held to a prediction.
Got it. Last year you were famously, or infamously, quoted as saying the next thing you do was going to be “ for the brand of yourself, brand Tyler.” How does being an Idol judge factor into that?
What I meant by that quote was that there were just some other things I wanted to do, not unlike Joe Perry. I’ve just been [Aerosmith’s] dancing bear. I haven’t really taken advantage of doing all that other stuff and I just thought when I was doing this interview last year that I was going to kick it up a notch. You tell me how if this season of Idol is better, and if there are 40 million people watching, what that’s going to do for my career? It’s going to take it over the moon.
Is there such a thing as being overexposed nowadays? I mean, you’re pretty well known already.
Overexposed in what sense? I’m not going to put out a doll or anything like that, but I’m going to keep doing things that behoove me and help me stretch out. I’ve always said that there isn’t anything worth doing that isn’t worth overdoing. I don’t think anything I’m doing now reaches the extent of being overexposed. We put an album out and 100 million people hear it worldwide. Television is just an extension of what I’ve always done. I don’t think people have seen that Italian side of me, the side of me that can work a room like nobody’s business. It’s what I am. It’s something that people haven’t seen unless there was a party backstage after a show because that ominous person that’s out of his mind onstage is not the same guy that’s sitting in front of cameras. Now, whether people like me or don’t for what I am now, I don’t care.
Please tell me we aren’t going to see you on the Celebrity Apprentice?
No, I don’t think so, no.
Are you worried that being on Idol is going to alienate core Aerosmith fans that might think that being on the show isn’t very rock 'n' roll?
American Idol isn’t a very rock 'n' roll thing to do. But the band was looking for another singer for a while, so I figured why not, it’s my turn now. In reality, Idol is going to take Aerosmith up a few notches. I guarantee it.
What did you think when you saw the quotes from Joe Perry saying he didn’t want Aerosmith’s name associated with Idol and that the show was “one step above Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"? How did that make you feel?
Like Joe’s a loose canon. I don’t see how this is going to hurt my career at all. It is just one unreal moment after another. I only hope that they put out the deleted scenes because that’s going to really take it over the top. Joe can say what he wants to all day long, and I never really answered it because I thought it was phony.
So Joe might even be convinced to watch an episode or two?
I already called Joe to tell him not to watch knowing full well that he will. You know, [ American Idol producer] Nigel [Lythgoe] used a lot of Aerosmith footage in the show and I think Joe would be proud of what he sees. He would have jumped at this just as well. And if he doesn’t watch it, so be it. I can’t please everybody. I can only please myself. And for right now, for where things are in my life, I’ve had too much fun doing this.
Who’s the bigger diva: J. Lo or Ryan Seacrest?
[Laughs] Ryan, without a doubt.
Seriously, give me your impression of J. Lo. She does have this reputation in the tabloid press for being a diva. Did you see any of that?
She is a diva! But when these kids come out, when these kids are singing in front of us with all their heart and soul and giving it up, you can’t be a diva in front of that. Seeing her with the kids, she has a really big heart. She’s not a diva as much as Simon Cowell is. She could never out-diva Simon Cowell.
Can she out-diva you?
[Laughs] Depends on which side of the bed I wake up on.
Whose makeup takes longer to do: hers or yours?
Ryan’s, without a doubt.
Whether people like me or don’t for what I am now, I don’t care.
Let’s talk about Aerosmith. What’s the latest news with the band?
The guys are coming to L.A. next week to start writing until the end of February. I’m only doing Idol two days a week so we can write until June 1, at which time we start recording the record. And then in November and December we are on tour in South America and Japan, so it’s full on right now, baby, full on!
The album you have coming out this year is the last under your contract with Sony. What happens after that? Will you sign a new contract or go your separate ways? Last year Joe spoke publicly about the possibility of replacing you.
You know, we’ll see. I think the band was afraid that I would do Idol, they didn’t know where I would go with it. But I have an allegiance to my band that’s first and foremost. Idol is second; my band comes first. There’s not a thing about Aerosmith that’s dying. But, you know, Joe is doing an album. I’ve been married to these guys for 40 years. I’m proud to say I’m in one of the few bands that have survived all the crap. And I did take the high road when Joe was going off about all that stuff because it didn’t mean anything to me. Joe wasn’t going to find another singer, and I wasn’t going to let him. There was no relevance to it. It was an ugly, family argument that, unfortunately, they took public and I stayed quiet about.
But still, did you see any contestants on Idol that reminded you of a young Steven Tyler? Anyone that had the singing chops to been in Aerosmith?
No one had lips big enough.
I’ve heard fans of Aerosmith complain about your commercial success since Permanent Vacation was released in 1987. The argument goes that since your comeback, you’ve been more popular than ever before but creatively you are worse than ever. How do you respond to that?
Nice opinion, bad argument. … You know, some of the pictures of me in high school I like better than pictures now. But you know, look, I think whatever the song, for better or worse, commercial or not, we’ve made as many people, if not more, happy. I was brought up Italian, and taught how to work a room and take care of the guests at the bed-and-breakfast my parents owned. That’s all I like to do is make people happy. So much so that it’s gotten in the way of making myself happy. I lived and loved and lost, and been married and divorced, had more managers than I wish I did and had more wives than I wish I did. Look, it’s a series of events and I’m just grateful that our career has lasted as long as it has…
The good thing about me is that I serve up the food that I’ve written that week and if someone doesn’t like it, I don’t care. That’s one of the beautiful things about being in a band this long. We’ve put in our time, our dues, and made so many people happy. We’ve been grateful for that. We haven’t quit and broken up despite all the shit this band has been through. We’ve stood the test of time because we still love each other. No one’s quit, including me, and we all know, including me, that this band is bigger than any one of us.
Peter Lauria is senior correspondent covering business, media, and entertainment for The Daily Beast. He previously covered music, movies, television, cable, radio, and corporate media as a business reporter for The New York Post. His work has also appeared in Avenue, Blender, and Media Magazine, and he's appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC Radio, and Reuters TV.