L.A. News Briefs
American Idol is entering its 14th and final season, bringing with it a close to the recent hey-day of live bands on television. The show’s music director and producer Rickey Minor is a connector within the industry who fosters talent and mentors musicians. The relationships between the Berklee alumni who’ve worked for Minor and the intricate ways their careers are tied to together, is a microcosm of the larger Berklee alumni community. Below, a few alumni share their experiences working with Minor, the musician regarded as the “King of Los Angeles” for their generation.
Kenya Hathaway ’94, an artist, background vocalist and American Idol vocal coach, had heard about Minor’s auditions. “He was the guy that called everyone back,” she says. Hathaway became one of Minor’s TV singers performing on major award and music shows. “We were all such perfectionists. We wanted to sound exactly like the record,” she recalls. In 2014, at Minor’s prompting, Hathaway became a vocal coach on American Idol. “He’s been such a force in my life,” Hathaway says. “If he says I can do it, I can do it.” During the first season, she and her musical partner Matt Rohde ’91 coached contestant Caleb Johnson to victory. “It’s a small musical world,” Hathaway says regarding fellow alumni. “We used to tease [Minor] about having so many Berklee people.”
Rohde majored in jazz composition and has served as an associate music director for American Idol and as an arranger for The Voice. Rohde has also worked big pop tours for such artists as Hanson, Alanis Morissette, and Christina Aguilera. During his interview for American Idol, Rohde played a sort of musical Russian roulette before the show’s producers by sight reading the sheet music of random artists on the fly. “The show is so diverse, you have to be fluent in every kind of style,” he says. Rohde, who also owns Coast Music Conservatory with his wife Liz Rohde ’92, has noted that 90 percent of a musician’s work comes from referrals. “You always have to present yourself in the best light,” he advises.
Lenny Wee ’08 is a freelance mixer and arranger, and Minor’s right-hand man. Wee heard about an interview to be Minor’s office manager from Berklee professor Bill Elliott. The job quickly turned into an opportunity. “Engineers wouldn’t be able to make it last minute,” he says, “so I would fill in. It was like, ‘just do it because we need it done.’” Whatever the situation, Wee is there to make it work for Minor. “The most important thing is to be ready for anything,” he says. “Always keep your chops up. If you’re not ready, you might get the gig, but you’ll never keep the gig.”
David Delhomme ’89 is keyboardist and guitarist who majored in music synthesis. At the start of his career, Delhomme toured with such artists as Marcus Miller and Eric Clapton. He later backed pop acts including the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and Whitney Houston. More recently, he’s worked with Rickey Minor in the Tonight Show band and on American Idol. He advises alumni to keep writing songs. “A great song will outlive you, me, and everyone else,” Delhomme says. “A great song will be around forever.”
Saxophonist Miguel Gandelman ’04 and trumpeter Ray Monteiro ’03 connected during their freshman year at Berklee and have continued as members of a horn group that has worked with many pop stars and was part of the Tonight Show band when Minor was the band leader. For American Idol, Gandeman is a saxophonist, producer, programmer, and arranger. He suggests that playing, performing, and gaining the attention of a music director like Minor is no different than building any other relationship. “We knew we were part of his team when Minor said, ‘I want you guys to be my every-single-day horns.’ That solidified it.”
Minor hired Monteiro for the horn section of the Tonight Show band because of his “commitment to excellence.” Together with Gandelman, Monteiro has toured with Sheila E, Babyface, Eric Benoit, and Christina Aguilera. When asked about advice for self-employed musicians, Gandelman says, “I would say to believe in yourself. Believe that it’s possible,” Monteiro offers. “There are no cubicles in this lifestyle. You have to be able to adapt.”