Rex Hardy and Russell Graham on American Idol
American Idol season 12 is underway with a new slate of contestants vying to reach the top spot and international stardom. Led by music director Ray Chew, the American Idol house band backs up every performer on live television, covering an enormous range of musical styles to perfection throughout the year. Working without a net before TV audiences of 20 million and beyond is a pressure-packed gig, for sure. To help get their jobs done, keyboardist Russell Graham and drummer Rex Hardy Jr. rely on Roland instruments to instantly deliver the top-level sounds and versatility they need every time, without fail.
In his duties as second keyboardist on American Idol, Russell Graham uses two JUPITER-80 synthesizers, plus a VP-770 Vocal & Ensemble Keyboard for vocoder sounds. “Over the course of the past year I’ve come to lean very heavily on the JUPITERs, not only for their sound quality and sonic richness, but also for the speed of programming,” he says. “I find the touchscreen navigation to be extremely intuitive and well thought out. I can do simple tweaks quickly, or I can go a few levels deeper and really get ‘under the hood’ of the sound.”
The impressive sounds that Russell achieves with his Roland rig are regularly noticed at rehearsals and on the set. “Without fail, every time we begin the rehearsal process for a TV show or live artist performance, someone asks me what these keyboards are and how I’m getting the sounds I’m getting,” he relates. Russell appreciates the great versatility of his Roland keyboards, and also their ability to achieve unique sounds. “As general-usage keyboards, the JUPITERs and the VP hold their own against anything else out there,” he says. “But aside from that, I’d say it’s about once a week that I do something keyboard-wise that simply wouldn’t have been possible with any other keyboard currently available.”
Drummer Rex Hardy Jr. employs the flagship TD-30KV V-Pro Series V-Drums set while working on American Idol. In addition to its great feel, he loves the ability to have quick and easy access to an incredible variety of drum and percussion sounds. “Using the Roland TD-30 gave me more versatility with sounds,” he says. “Considering we play so many different styles of music on American Idol, the TD-30 allows me to explore all types of sounds and feels that make each song sound authentic.”
Rex has expanded his TD-30KV with an additional PD-108-BC V-Pad for a side snare, plus a PDX-8 V-Pad for even more triggering options. “I have three to four main kits that I’ve set up to fit what we normally do on American Idol,” he says. “There are a few times where I may have to set up an ‘80s rock kit or an electronic disco kit, depending on the songs week to week. Being able to have options is amazing! When the kit is going through the house mains, it sounds killer.” Rex also plays an SPD-SX Sampling Pad, which he loads up with custom drum loops and auxiliary sounds that he triggers for song intros and other applications.
With his success using V-Drums, Rex readily encourages drummers to discover their many benefits. “Other pro players should definitely get into the TD-30 because it’s limitless,” he relates. “There is nothing you can’t do with this kit. I even implement it within my acoustic setups as well. The sounds are amazing, and you can tweak them to what you feel works. My advice is to try it and see what you think—you’ll love it.”
Russell is equally enthusiastic in recommending Roland gear to other keyboardists. “Playability, sound quality, versatility, reliability. They sound great, they play great,” he says. “Especially in TV situations, where deadlines are tight and everything is moving fast, they can be programmed and edited very, very quickly.”