Listen And Judge

Just when you thought you had to wait for the next season of American Idol to land that recording contract, Justin Beckett has created an online version of the wildly popular show that allows aspiring musicians to post their music on the Web to be voted on by site visitors.

Launched in October, American Idol Underground ( allows artists to upload their song for $50. Each song is guaranteed a minimum of 200 rotations on one of AIU’s genre-specific Internet radio stations. In exchange for prizes, music fans listen and rate songs, whose airplay increases as ratings go up. The best songs from each genre are awarded prizes that can include a demo recording package for the artist.

Beckett began toying with the idea of bringing American Idol to the Web in 2002, the same year Kelly Clarkson walked off the stage with a recording contract after TV viewers voted her the winner. “Each year, 100,000 people line up to audition for the TV show,” says Beckett. “We offer an anonymous way for people to not necessarily become an Idol contestant, but to realize their dreams by exposing millions of people to their music.”

But first, Beckett had to convince American Idol producers that he was the man for the job. It took about a year, and early meetings didn’t turn out as planned, he says. “I’d been playing around with a music application that leveraged the Internet and its broad distribution capabilities to optimize music.”

Beckett, a former dot-com executive, founded and ran the online gaming company SkillJam Technologies before selling it earlier this year. He then founded Fluid Audio Networks with 30 employees and a $500,000 investment gleaned from the sale of his previous company. He used the capital to develop the firm’s core technology application.

Beckett, a Duke University graduate whose career involved managing a private equity fund, served as managing director of the New Africa Opportunities Fund, which was mired in controversy before he resigned in 2000. Beckett spends much of his time these days managing his budding company and its online component, supervising business and product development, optimizing distribution, and troubleshooting technical glitches.

Running a small minority-owned firm in an industry where behemoths rule hasn’t been easy for Beckett. He says he’s often questioned about his affiliation with the American Idol brand. “We’ve had prospective partners question our right to use the name,” says Beckett, who has had to ask FremantleMedia for “verification” of the relationship on more than one occasion.

Jason Turner, director of interactive at FremantleMedia, is confident of Beckett’s ability to successfully take the brand online. “When Justin was at SkillJam, he came out of the blue with the idea for American Idol Underground, and it just blew us away,” says Turner. “He’s been successful in the past with online, interactive technologies, and I’m looking for this to be the next great thing he does.”

Payoff Pitch
“He listened, presented it to his superiors, and today my company has the exclusive rights to deploy the American Idol brand online,” says