Kara DioGuardi on Sex Abuse and ‘Fumbling’ ‘Idol’
For most of America, Kara DioGuardi is best known for her brief and widely dissected stint as a judge on ‘American Idol,’ and oh yes, flashing her bikini during the season eight finale. But she is much, much more as evidenced in her new memoir, ‘A Helluva High Note.’ DioGuardi is a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose songs have appeared on massive albums by Pink, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but besides being a talented songster, she writes honestly about her eating disorder, struggles to succeed in a male-dominated business and what she honestly thinks about Simon Cowell.
In our lengthy chat, DioGuardi tells PopEater about her confusing final days on ‘Idol’ and her up-and-down relationship with Simon Cowell. She also opens up about the trifecta of heartache in the book: she was molested as a child and was date-raped and had a eating disorder in her 20s.
Was this book hard to write?
It was. It’s always difficult to go back in time and face the past again. I mean I’m in a different place now, thank God, so I’m kind of coming from a more positive place because I’ve come through much stronger because of it.
It seems like the event that has defined you the most is your mother’s illness and death.
Yeah, I mean once you’ve changed your own parent’s diapers and picked them up off the floor and held their hand when they were dying, everything else pales in comparison. I can face anything.
Songwriting is such a hard business to crack.
It’s really tough. I keep getting these questions, “Oh you went through all these things, it was so difficult, why did you keep doing it?” For me, music was my salvation. It was this amazing occupation where I could write about my feelings every day, which was something I needed to do. To get past all the things that had happened to me, being molested and the other things. I got to know myself and I got to like myself.
How old were you when you were molested?
I was 11. (DioGuardi was molested by the son of a family friend).
It made me sad that when you told your mother, she didn’t do anything.
My mother was very Catholic, very repressed, a virgin when she married. She barely said the word sex and there weren’t Oprahs, it was a different time, but in the last month I spoke to my mother’s friend’s kid and she relayed to me how my mother was speaking to her about it so it definitely weighed on her and I spoke to her about it before she died. She didn’t know how to handle it but still you internalize it like, “Wow, am I not worth anything?” So I think that was something I needed to come back from and build my self-esteem.
You also developed an eating disorder.
I got an eating disorder when I was in high school. A friend of mine had gone to fat camp and when she came back she looked so great and I thought now maybe I should go on a diet. I wasn’t really overweight but I just thought well my friend is doing it, I should do it. When I started losing weight people were like, “Wow you look great,” and I thought, oh God was I heavy before? And then I hooked on the number of 116 pounds and everything revolved around that. It was about a decade of weird issues with food. I didn’t binge at all during that, everything really stopped when I was 26, 27. Now it never happens anymore.
You’ve been getting a lot of press for talking about getting date-raped. Are you upset that that has become the focus of the book?
I have to admit it’s a bit jarring when you wake up and that’s the only thing being discussed from the book. At the same time, if it helps somebody out there I’m fine with it. To me it’s all about helping people.
Why didn’t you report it?
Because at the time music was what was saving me, making me feel good about myself and if I knew if I told somebody that would be what I was known for and I wanted to get where I was going and I wanted to stay in music and I didn’t want to be known as the girl who sued blah blah for this because I knew that would hurt my career, unfortunately. In the book I say the way I handled it isn’t the way everyone should handle it. That was my personal decision, but I knew in my heart I had to keep going in music and this guy was not going to ruin my chances.
Kara Visited the ‘TODAY’ Show to Promote the Book:
It’s amazing to me that when you were hired for ‘American Idol’ you got no television training.
I had nothing. They thought part of that would be fun like maybe I would do something funny.
Were you thinking on the first day, oh my God what have I done?
Totally. The first day I was already 12 hours into the work day and that’s when the makeup started caking over and you get the drag queen version of yourself and then they’re like time to do the auditions. I had been up since six, I had a thing in my ear for three hours doing satellite interviews, it was just crazy and then to actually have to go to the auditions at that point my head was spinning.
You never had a problem with Paula but you had problems with Simon.
I never had any issues with Paula. It was more they brought me on and didn’t tell her. With Simon I felt like he wasn’t letting me … and he was the key to the panel. For whatever reason, I just felt like the newbie. But then we got to a place where we respected each other and I learned the most from him.
He was like the cool kid in school.
Oh my God, he was such the cool kid in school. First of all he changed my name to Kara (said with elongated A’s). I’m Kara (flat A). He had a rhythm and a cue and a way of doing things and I was totally fumbling around the first year.
You fought so hard to be respected in the music industry and then they talked you into appearing in a bikini.
I felt really pressured. I mean to have gone through an eating disorder and then have to get up in front of 25 million people in a bikini. I mean I don’t want to even go to the beach in my bikini. But they thought it would be a great TV moment and in their defense it was, and I was glad I got to give some money to my charity and that’s basically what sealed the deal for me. I think in their own way they were trying to help me. They figured that people would like that and think that I was taking the piss out of myself and would like me more if I wasn’t so serious.
Were you fired or did you quit?
I called them after I saw reports about the show and they said now that Ellen is leaving it’s put everything up in the air because now we need to replace two people so we don’t know what’s going on. So I asked if I was fired and they said “no,” so I said well last week we were talking about auditions, am I definitely doing the show? And they said, “We can’t say that for sure but you’re definitely not fired.” I thought I’m not going to hang around and wait to see what happens, so I sent them a letter asking them to release me from their contract which they would not do until they sorted it all out. I think the reality is that the panel was not set up until the very end.
What would you say to Simon if he called you for ‘X Factor’?
He wouldn’t call me for that. (Laughs).
Have you spoken to him?
Yes, I have. I don’t know if he’s read the book. He shouldn’t be pissed. I said the most I learned was from him. I thanked him. I think of all people Simon’s always talking about the brutal truth. I told him to his face last year, “I did not like you then but I like you now.” He laughed and said something like, “I just started liking you ten minutes ago.”
Seriously, what’s up with his man boobs?
Oh my God I have no idea. I mean they’re firm and perky so that’s good.
They look like a B cup.
I’ll have to feel them for you next time I run into him.
‘A Helluva High Note: Surviving Life, Love, and American Idol’ is in bookstores and on Amazon now.