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Can McCain Move Past Questions About Links to Lobbyists?; What Can Clinton do to Beat Obama; Randy Jackson Discusses 'Idol' and Personal Life

Aired February 22, 2008 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Clinton versus Obama in a Lone Star State showdown.
Will Texas be Hillary's last stand or the key to a campaign comeback?

Plus, the John McCain controversy -- can the GOP frontrunner move beyond media questions about his links to lobbyists?

And Randy Jackson...

... The "American Idol" judge rates some singers, rags on others and rocks this year's election vote. It's more than idle talk.

It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. We begin with politics -- what else?

In D.C. is Paul Begala, Democratic strategist, CNN political contributor and a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Also, in Washington, Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, president of New Future Communications and a supporter of Barack Obama.

In New York is Kellyanne Conway, CEO and president of the polling company, a Republican strategist and supporter of John McCain.

Here in Los Angeles, Michael Reagan, conservative commentator, nationally syndicated talk radio talk show host of his own program.

And in Washington, Michael Isikoff, the senior investigative correspondent for "Newsweek". He has a new story out about John McCain. So let's begin with that Mike.

What are we -- what are we learning now?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Well, when "The New York Times" broke its story on Wednesday night about John McCain and his ties to the lobbyists, the campaign put out a pretty sweeping point by point rebuttal, shooting down almost every allegation that was in "The Times" story. And it turned out that the rebuttal was not quite as airtight as the campaign suggested.

On the critical point -- leaving aside all the suggestions about whether or not there was any kind of inappropriate relationship between Senator McCain and the woman lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, the substantive issue was whether the senator had done any legislative favors for her clients, Paxson Communications, a Florida communications company that was seeking -- had business before the FCC.

Senator McCain had written letters to urge the FCC to make a decision on the Paxson Communications application. In the campaign's rebuttal, they said that Senator McCain had never been directly lobbied by anybody from Paxson Communications or the lobbying firm that it employed. It turned out that that was contradicted by the senator's own statements in a sworn deposition, which we got a hold of this week...

KING: All right...

ISIKOFF: which he talked all about this and described, chapter and verse, how the communications company had lobbied and pushed him for it.

KING: Yes...

ISIKOFF: And when asked in the deposition whether the totality of all this -- the campaign contributions he got, the corporate -- the rides on corporate jets, he said absolutely.

KING: Got you.


ISIKOFF: The public would be justified in viewing it as a potential conflict of interest.

KING: Kellyanne, that was what people were saying -- if this story had legs, your candidate is in trouble. Is this legs?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, these aren't even stumps, Larry. For God's sake, this was one of the most thinly reported articles by six people I can imagine. And I love Michael Isikoff, but I can't see how this really plays that out any deeper.

And I'll tell you why. I think for John McCain, yesterday was his first test of presidential mettle -- how you would handle a crisis that caught you completely unaware?

And you know what he did? With textbook perfection, he went out there very quickly and very unequivocally denied allegations, went beyond some of the allegations and thereby emphatically saying no to the question have you had a romantic relationship?

KING: Why do...

CONWAY: And then he moved on with his day.

KING: No, but Kelly...

CONWAY: He moved on with his day.

KING: But what about Michael just said, that he rebuts his own statements by statements he's made in the past?

CONWAY: Well, I think that we're going to have to, in the fullness of time, understand -- if he sits down and actually is able to answer these questions now -- some of these allegations, all these allegations are things that happened nine years ago. So I can't imagine any of us have perfect memories of things that happened nine years ago.


CONWAY: And I just have to say this, Larry. I think that in the case of "The New York Times, " you know, Howell Raines lost his job there as the editor because he wanted women to play golf at Augusta National Club. And yet yesterday had a real tinge of sexism. It suggested that a pretty woman in Washington can't make a decent and honest living if she's trying to lobby a United States senator. Saying a senator and a lobbyist had been in a room multiple times, they were on private planes together, is like saying the salt shaker and the pepper shaker are together on a dining room table.

KING: All right. Michael Reagan, does Michael Isikoff's revelation of this previous comment by the senator, refuting something he said yesterday, bother you?

MICHAEL REAGAN, HOST, "THE MICHAEL REAGAN TALK SHOW": No, it doesn't bother me at all.

KING: Why not?

REAGAN: I'm not surprised by "The New York Times" or "Newsweek" magazine and what they say and what they do. I mean a couple of weeks ago...

KING: You think they're biased?

REAGAN: ...they were endorsing him, now they're coming out and trying to find something wrong with John McCain. Listen, as much as conservatives may have some problems with John McCain on immigration and so on and so forth, the reality of it is nobody has ever questioned his character. And for "The New York Times" or "Newsweek" or somebody else to question the character of John McCain, I think, is so, so out of bounds.

KING: So, if this story, "The Times" story were about Barack Obama, you'd would be slamming "The Times," as well?

REAGAN: But there have been -- there have been stories out about Barack Obama and they have been slammed, because we don't want to go there -- down that road. But it seems "The New York Times" wants to go down the road.

I wrote in an op-ed piece and I said why do you need "The New York Times" when you have Al Jazeera? KING: Paul Begala, what do you make of this whole thing on the other side, before we get to your side of the coin?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, fundamentally it's not a sex scandal. Democrats have sex scandals. Republicans have money scandals, right? We make love not war. Republicans apparently can't do either. But the problem McCain has is it is not a sex scandal. He's treating it like it is. I take him at his word, he says that there wasn't an affair there. I believe him. There's no reason not to.

There is, however -- look at what Kellyanne just said. John McCain spending a lot of time with a lobbyist is like a salt peppers -- a salt shaker spending time with a pepper shaker. That's the problem.

McCain holds himself out to be someone who is a reformer. And yet his campaign chairman, Tom Loeffler, is a lobbyist. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, is a lobbyist. His campaign adviser, Charlie Black, is a lobbyist. That whole campaign is a lobbyists' den.

And yet Mr. McCain is running as the guy that's going to clean up Washington. That's the problem here, is that he is proving that he's not a Straight Talk Expresser and he's double talk and he's actually just hanging out with lobbyists all the time.


BEGALA: One of them, Mr. Black, told the paper today that he does his lobbying business by phone when he's on the McCain campaign bus.


BEGALA: Come on. That means it's of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists...

KING: Let me get...

BEGALA: ...and for the lobbyists.

KING: Let me get...

BEGALA: It means that McCain is a double talker.

KING: Let me get a thought from -- let me bring Jamal in so we get his input and then we'll go around again -- Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Yes, I think, Larry, this is another example of politicians giving a flat denial. Now there's a little drip, drip that maybe what we said wasn't true. Maybe it's a little bit true. OK, maybe it's more true than we thought.

I think the problem for John McCain is he's got a bunch of people now circling around, trying to figure out what's real and what's not real here. And if there are more shoes to drop, it's going to go against his credibility. And what most people realize is that John McCain may not be as much of a maverick as he set himself out to be.

KING: Michael Isikoff...

CONWAY: I think it's that he's more conservative than "The New York Times" hoped, because -- and I quote them. Last month, in their endorsement of his candidacy, Larry, they said: "He has demonstrated that he has the character to stand on principle."

A month later, apparently he doesn't. And today, "The New York Times" is trying to make this artificial bifurcation between the news division and the editorial division. Hey, it's the editorial division that honored him as a man of principle and character and endorsed his candidacy as the Republican nominee. But it's the news division that's going to make all these insinuations and allegations.

KING: All right. I'll take a break.

By the way, they should be separate shouldn't they, news and editorial?

BEGALA: And they are, which they proved.

CONWAY: Yes, but listen, "The New York Times" editorial page thinks it makes news every day. Come on, folks. And they may prove -- they may try to say that they're separate. But I can tell you, many conservatives today, who two days ago had trouble with John McCain, certainly look at "The New York Times" as one holistic piece.

BEGALA: Well, apparently if "The New York Times" wants to get back in...

KING: We'll take a break. Hold it, guys.

BEGALA: If "The New York Times" wants to (INAUDIBLE).

KING: We'll take a break and come back.

We'll take a break and come back and we'll talk about the other race. And then we'll come back with this panel.

Don't go away.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to say, U.T. and American, that after...



KING: Paul Begala and Jamal Simmons remain with us. The rest of our panel will be coming back in the next segment. We're joined now in this segment by Michael Eric Dyson, university professor at Georgetown, best-selling author and ordained Baptist minister, a supporter of Barack Obama. And on his -- sitting next to him, his lovely wife, the Reverend Marcia Dyson, contributing editor to "Essence" magazine, research associate at the University of Pennsylvania and a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Michael, how do you two live together?


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Well, we try to have a division of labor here. Rather recently, I can say it's been much better to be on my side than on hers. But we've negotiated a kind of political truce, to say our politics are one thing, our personal lives are another thing -- although the politics become personal right now, Larry, because it's heating up and I'm glad to say that Senator Barack Obama is doing extraordinarily well. It will take a very vigorous contestation by Senator Clinton to catch up to him.

KING: Marcia, how did your candidate do last night?

REV. MARCIA DYSON, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I thought she did very well. In fact, I thought she did fabulously. She addressed the issues very well. She was very to the point to the questions that were asked her, also. So I thought she did great in talking about her relationships to the constituency of the United States.

She was very personable about the stories that she told about her interacting with people in Texas and folks she had met in Ohio. Her laying out, I think, very well her health care program again, as opposed to Senator Obama. She talked very well and spoke very well to the issue of foreign policy as it relates, also, to Cuba. I think she did very well.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I would say that, you know, one of the low points for Senator Clinton, of course, is when these trumped up charges of plagiarism were evoked again. And I think the American people are pretty much tired of that. They understand the difference between a verbal representation of an oral culture, which is quite promiscuous -- words are passed along, ideas are passed along, people -- especially in the black church. This is how we do it in the black church, Larry. The first time we hear something, we say, as Larry King says. The second time we say, as somebody says. The third time we say, as I always say.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: So we appropriate those oral cultures in a different way than if you represented it on a page.

KING: I got you.

REV. MARCIA DYSON: Right. But we also say in the church, too, is that be thee or not on thee (ph) hearers of the words, but doer of the words. And I think that what Senator Clinton really has demonstrated in her life is that she's more than just about a change that we can believe in. She really is about a change that we have seen.

And it started immediately with her family, with her father, that by the time her father, who was a staunch Republican, died, he embraced her husband, who was a supreme Democrat, and his daughter, who switched parties. He owned a business with an African-American and his doctor was a gay man. And not only transforming that, but she really is doing the work, as Alice Walker said...

KING: All right...

REV. MARCIA DYSON: ...the work her soul must do.

KING: All right, Paul...

REV. MARCIA DYSON: So I think that she, too, is influenced by (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Paul, what do you make of this couple?

BEGALA: I want to just turn the camera off me and put it back on Marcia. She's excellent. But, by the way, and so is Michael. But that's one -- you know, of course, James Carville is probably my best friend. And his wife is still a Republican. We're working on her, but I don't think she's going to be switching parties.

So, you know, love matters over everything. But I just so admire the both of them and I'm really proud to be part of a party that has two such remarkable people in it.

KING: Jamal, what do you make of them?

SIMMONS: Well, I'm just glad I'm sitting next to Paul and not in between the two of them.


SIMMONS: Because they're pretty good at what they do.

You know, Senator Obama did well last night. I think there's some -- I think Senator Clinton actually had some pretty good moments. But, you know, she needed to score more points and she just didn't. So I think the tie goes to -- the tie goes to the runner. And that would be Senator Obama in this race.

KING: Does she have to -- Marcia, does she have to win big in Texas?

REV. MARCIA DYSON: She has to win big all the time. And that is her determination. She is the energetic bunny who will not -- she's not going to stop on this job, as well. You know, I don't want to make this an Olympic type of scoring. This woman has trained all of her life for the position to which she wants to hold, not for herself. She's not going by and for power. She really wants to give power to the powerless. And I believe that that, without the scoring of the Olympics, that -- for me she's always a champion...

KING: Well, she's not...

REV. MARCIA DYSON: ...because she's been a 10 plus (ph) for American citizens.

KING: Michael, do you think she has to win big for delegates?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean it's amazing to me that the language of the Clintons has changed -- and, of course, their surrogate here.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Before, when she was the inevitable candidate inexorably marching toward victory like some general across the civil rights, you know, struggle, then all of a sudden, you know, she was powerful. She was ahead. This is the thing they had to do.

Now, they're having much more, you know, open and carrot (ph) -- you know, I think compassionate language. I think she has to win big. She has to win overwhelmingly. And I just don't think it's going to happen. They're in a dead heat in Texas right now. She's only 7 points ahead in Ohio.

KING: Thanks.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I think our man is on the stage.

REV. MARCIA DYSON: Yes, she's (INAUDIBLE) that she has to win big.

KING: Thanks, Dysons.

We're out of time in this segment.



KING: Thanks, Dysons.

REV. MARCIA DYSON: Thank you so much.


KING: When we come back, Begala and Simmons remain and then we come back with our originals, Kellyanne Conway, Michael Reagan and Michael Isikoff.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back with our original panel in this segment.

And we'll talk about newspapers and the like.

Michael Reagan, you told me something during the break, that you believe "The New York Times" and "Newsweek" are biased.

REAGAN: Oh, yes. I mean conservatives do think they're biased. And we look at a lot of issues, whether it's what they did with John McCain or what they did earlier on with the president of the United States, having to do with leaking information about how the president was trying to, in fact, stop terrorists from coming into the United States of America. We have always looked at "The New York Times" as very biased.

KING: Do you also look at conservative biased papers?

REAGAN: But I like the conservative biased papers.

KING: Oh, I see.

REAGAN: Larry, come on. I'm supposed to like the conservatives' bias, like "The Washington Times" and what have you. But you're not supposed to like the liberal-biased ones.

KING: Yes. So bias is OK if it's your bias?

REAGAN: Absolutely. It's always been that way.

KING: Michael -- well put. Michael Isikoff, how do you react to that when you hear that, that "Newsweek" tilts?

ISIKOFF: Well, I remember hearing from Mr. Begala a lot during the Clinton years about how biased I was -- or "Newsweek" was -- against the Democratic president.


ISIKOFF: You know, look, and the fact is that it's our job, it's to do investigative reporting, to look at the vulnerabilities of candidates on all sides. And we try to do it pretty aggressively. You know, Democrat or Republican, it really doesn't make much difference. We get flak from all sides.

And, look, on the particular matter involving Senator McCain, I mean the point that I was really trying to raise before is not that this is necessarily -- certainly the story raised by "The New York Times" is going to be a mortal blow for Senator McCain or even necessarily that it raised serious questions that the voters should change their views on him are.

Having been down this road many times, the one thing that's always the case is that if you're going to respond, be as accurate as you can, and that when voters and the press sense that something is said that doesn't hold up, you're going to get hit for that.

KING: OK. Is that...

ISIKOFF: And that's why it's so important to be as accurate and up front as you can from the beginning.

KING: Isn't that a fair point, Kellyanne? Isn't that a fair point?

CONWAY: It is and I'm looking forward, since Michael says they're going to be fair on to all sides, I'm looking forward to the big expose on Mark Penn. He's collected $10 million in polling and direct mail fees from Hillary Clinton for this brilliant strategy that she's running and is the chairman of Burson-Marsteller at the same time. Talk about lobbyist ties and influence peddling. So I -- I look very much forward to that. I'm going to want an autographed piece.


KING: Michael Reagan, do you want to say...

REAGAN: Well, I can jump in. It's, you know, what goes on so much today, because there's so much media, you have people that cherry pick. You know, you can go back and cherry pick what you said 20 years ago and what I said 15 years ago and what Ronald Reagan said 25 years ago. And you want to cherry pick and find a position and then argue the position, you can do that. And that's what's going on.

I think that's what "The New York Times" did. They cherry picked something from eight, nine years ago, brought it in. Then Michael goes and looks at something that happened three years ago and says this is what he said three years ago. My God, I don't know what I said three years ago on the air and I'm on the air every day. Or you -- what you said two days ago. And I think this cherry picking leads people to believe something is going on where something may not be going on at all.

KING: Well taken. Paul Begala, what do you think about this whole -- the idea of prejudice, I guess, of a sort?

BEGALA: Yes, well, Isikoff pointed out, I mean I -- nobody was rougher on us than "Newsweek" was, or the rest of the media, which was horribly biased against Bill Clinton. They hated Clinton.

And yet you know what? You know what?


BEGALA: He triumphed -- he triumphed, as did Michael's father. If there was a liberal bias against conservatives, it never stopped Ronald Reagan. There was certainly a deep and venomous anti-Clinton bias. He overcame it by talent and vision and also by being true to himself and to that vision. The problem with McCain here is he tells us his animating vision is as a reformer, as a maverick, as a straight talker.

Well, now, Michael has proved that he's contradicted himself under oath -- and I think we should give deference to what he says under oath. That's probably when he was telling the truth, rather than yesterday, when they were having a panic-stricken press conference.

He says he's a reformer, but he has surrounded himself with lobbyists. If lobbyists are running his campaign, they will surely run our country. This really undermines McCain's central point in a way that nothing ever undermined Ronald Reagan's central premise or Bill Clinton's.

KING: All right. Jamal --

CONWAY: Good lord, Paul.

KING: Jamal...

SIMMONS: Yes, I actually agree with Paul here. You know, the problem is that John McCain held himself as a sort of virtuous saint when it comes to these issues. But he has problems with the Keating Five. That was supposed to have scared him straight. And now he's supposed to be the guy who goes out and rails against lobbyist and the influence of money -- of corporate money.

And if we find out that, in fact, the person who is supposed to be our guardian against this is actually participating in the system in the same way everyone else is, you lose the rationale for the candidacy.

CONWAY: Guys, it sounds like you're afraid to run against him, which makes me really happy given how explosive the Democratic turnout has been so far in these primaries and caucuses.


CONWAY: Hillary Clinton, last week, was in Wisconsin or one of those states attacking hedge funds. Her daughter Chelsea works for one here in New York. Hillary Clinton, Paul, your client, your friend, Hillary Clinton, won't even release her tax records, some of the things going on with the Presidential Library.


CONWAY: And that matters. If you're talking about disclosure and transparency, it's got be all the way around guys.


BEGALA: So the problem with Hillary is she...


BEGALA: ...hasn't been investigated enough, right, Kellyanne?

REAGAN: It sounds like "The New York Times," in fact, is writing the talking points for Paul Begala and the rest of them to attack John McCain. I hope you run a campaign against John McCain talking about his character. Because what you've done and what "The New York Times" did and what you will continue to do is draw conservatives to the side of John McCain, because he hasn't found a way to get to us. But the "New York Times" found a way for us to surround John McCain, to protect him from the likes of you.

KING: So he's brought you together?

SIMMONS: But, see, Michael here's the issue. REAGAN: Absolutely.

SIMMONS: This is great, because here's the issue. John McCain needs something to rally conservatives around him because they're not going to rally around him based upon his record.

REAGAN: Well, with your talking points, he'll be able to do it.

CONWAY: Jamal, you're way off, honey. That's not true.


CONWAY: That's not true. We know who our nominee is. You guys are the ones stuck in a very protracted, ugly fight right now.

BEGALA: It's called democracy.

SIMMONS: Yes, and the reason we are -- and the reason we're in this fight -- I'm going to let Isikoff in here in a second -- the reason we're in this fight is because we can't decide which one of these candidates we like the most.

CONWAY: Oh, right.

SIMMONS: You guys couldn't decide which one you liked the least.

CONWAY: And they don't like each other very much, do they?


REAGAN: You know, Kellyanne, you'll probably agree with me. Watching the debate last night, that there seems to be a writers strike in the campaigns...


REAGAN: ...because they keep on saying the same thing...

CONWAY: That's a good one.

REAGAN: ...every single debate and they solve nothing.

CONWAY: Well, Hillary has said...

KING: Michael Isikoff, you were going to say something?


CONWAY: According to "The New York Times"...


KING: All right...


CONWAY: According to "The New York Times"...

KING: Michael Isikoff, you were going to say something (INAUDIBLE) at a time.

ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, I just want to very quickly take exception to Paul's suggestion that because you write critical articles about somebody, it's evidence of venom or hatred. I mean that's what we do, and I don't think we're, most of us are really haters.

But on the question of Senator McCain and the story, actually, ironically, there is a school of thought that all this has helped Senator McCain. His biggest problem at the moment was solidifying the conservative base. And as a result of "The New York Times" story, which a lot of people have legitimately criticized, it's rallied conservatives.


ISIKOFF: I was talking with Charlie Black, his campaign chairman, yesterday. He said for the first time ever, John McCain won talk radio today, because the talk radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and others who have been so critical of him were rallying to his defense.

So it may be that John McCain may end up all this as a net plus for him. We'll have to wait and see.

KING: And thank you all very much.

We are, of course, just touching the surface on this never-ending campaign. When did this all start?

We thank Paul Begala, Jamal Simmons, Kellyanne Conway, Michael Reagan and Michael Isikoff.

Our newest pod cast is ready for downloading at It's "Daily Show" and Oscar host Jon Stewart. This is one show you're going to want to download. Get the Jon Stewart pod cast at or iTunes.

Want to know who will make the final cut on "American Idol?"

Don't go anywhere, because Judge Randy Jackson will tell us what he thinks, when LARRY KING LIVE returns.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): Every way's a new way, every time I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was like going on. I was like, what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel turn. Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it. It was hot, baby. It was. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Come on baby, light my fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were the bomb tonight, baby. That was hot. I loved that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Try to set the night on fire.



KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE one of my favorite people, Randy Jackson, judge for "American Idol," now in its seventh smash hit season. They're down to 24 now. He's executive producer for the new MTV reality competition series "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew." He is a Grammy winning music producer, accomplished musician, and a hit song writer, and his new album is Randy Jackson's Music Club, Volume 1," which come out next month.

What comes first? How do you bounce all the balls?

RANDY JACKSON, "AMERICAN IDOL": It's funny. We have this single out with Paula Abdul. It's her first record in a decade. It is called "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow." We performed at the pregame on the Super Bowl. So we've been talking for seasons about doing something together, so I had this idea I'd do a record.

I love all the Quincy Jones records, dude, on the block, where, you know, me being a producer like him, not nearly as great as him, but, you know, me being a producer, I was thinking what kind of record I would want to put together just for fun, put a bunch of artists on there that I love, that are friends of mine, Joss Stone, Mariah, the great Sammy Davis.

KING: It comes out next month?

JACKSON: It comes out March 11th, yes.

KING: And the name is your music Club?

JACKSON: "Randy Jackson's Music Club, Volume 1." I'm really happy about that. It's a fun project.

KING: What you are first? Are you first a producer?

JACKSON: I think I like to think of myself first as just a music guy, as a musician, a writer and producer. I mean that's what, you know, everything I do including "America's Best Dance Crew," which is on MTV, the dance show, it all has music around it. Everything that I try to do, Larry, I try to keep music involved in all aspects of my game.

KING: How did you get with "American Idol?"

JACKSON: Some years ago I was still doing A&R at Universal, and, you know, I was leaving there. I was on the outs with them. I was leaving there. I got a call from someone, an agent friend of mine, Jeff Frasco (ph), who was saying, listen, we have this show going on in the UK. It is called "Pop Idol." It's blowing up over there and we're thinking about bringing it to America. Would you be interested in being a judge?

I was like, god, dude, I don't know. Music is really cheesy on TV like this with these shows. You know, nothing had been as great as "Star Search" in its hey day, and it was gone. Nothing was like that anymore. So, I said you know what, I'll check it out. I don't know. So low and behold, six, eight months later, they finally get around to bringing it over. They sold it to Fox.

Fox picked it up. And I went and checked it out. I loved it. I mean, still in the back of my mind from the first day, I was like scratching my head going, I don't know. And I've been friends with Paula for about 20 years. I have known Simon Cowell, because he was an A&R guy in the UK like myself. I was an A&R guy for 15 years. I was still like, I don't know if this thing is really going to work. But let's see.

KING: Are you surprised at what happened?

JACKSON: I am really blessed and very surprised that we're sitting at season seven. The kids, the talent is amazing this season. And I'm just really happy that, you know, we lucked out and had this ride.

KING: Why does it work?

JACKSON: I think it works for a lot of reasons, Larry. It's simple. It's only about music. It's not like, you know, people -- I joke to people like, you know, it's not like -- you're not in some rain forest that you don't know about, eating weird bugs, trying to survive. You're not trying to take 10 dollars to find out how to get from here to Rio with your dad or your mom.

It's really about what it's about. It's a singing competition. It's about singing, trying to find the best talent in America undiscovered.

KING: But its presentation is pretty good too, with the voting and the crowds and Cowell and the personalities.

JACKSON: Right. I think we lucked out with a great chemistry with Simon, Paula, Myself and Ryan. I think we -- we didn't know. I think we just lucked out with a great chemistry. We kind of -- we agree to disagree now. We kind of battle each other all the time.

KING: Tell me about this -- the MTV music -- "The Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew." Is it like the ABC show?

JACKSON: It's very different, you know, than the ABC show. I guess you are referring to "Dance Wars," right?

KING: No -- JACKSON: "Dancing With the Stars." It's very different than that and "So You Think You Can Dance," because those are shows about individual dancers. So this is a show about crews of five to seven people. You remember -- I don't know if you remember "Crush Groove," or "Beach Street" or the Michael Jackson videos is what I always tell people, even "West Side Story." Michael Jackson, he gets up out of the sewer in the "Beat It" video with his crew against Kenny Ortega's crew and they're battling it out. It's really about that. It's like "West Side Story. " Like, you know --

KING: My spies in the control room tell me it's doing very well.

JACKSON: Knock on wood, it is actually doing really well and we're really happy about that. So I mean, you know, a lot of people like it. Kids seem to like it. That is the whole thing. You want to entertain people as well.

KING: Why do dance shows do well?

JACKSON: I think dance shows do well because I always feel that the viewer at home can, like, vicariously watch and everybody goes out to a club and dances, or thinks that they can move or hear some music and they like it, whatever. I know your wife does music. There is something that she does, sometimes you go oh, yes. I like that. It is just an emotional release that you get, you know, when you move your body. You're like that feels good.

KING: Nothing like it.

JACKSON: Nothing like it.

KING: Our guest is Randy Jackson. We have some e-mails and a little toss clip we're going to surprise with you. We'll do all that when we come back.



JACKSON: Very classy, almost like a pro, dude. That was hot.


SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": I think it was terrific.


JACKSON: I think the girls were a little hotter. Boys, you got your work cut out for you.



KING: We're back with Randy Jackson. There's been singing and there's been dancing on the campaign trail this year. We've been thinking maybe there should be an electoral Idol competition. Let's take a look and Randy will judge. Watch.




KING: Music is everywhere. OK? Who stands out there?

JACKSON: I don't know. I think the dancing by the two of them was the best part of it.

KING: Barack?

JACKSON: Barack and Hillary. Who put that mic on Hillary when the National Anthem was going?

KING: It sounded like an "American Idol" early contestant.

JACKSON: Early reject, I don't know, man. Wow. That was wild.

KING: But music is part of this right?

JACKSON: Music is part of everything. It is part of everything. I think a world without music would just be a travesty.

KING: You have seen that DVD for Barack Obama that they put together with --

JACKSON: Yes, Will.I.Am. I saw. It's great.

KING: Whether you like him or not, brilliantly done.

JACKSON: Fantastic.

KING: Are you getting involved in the race at all?

JACKSON: No, I do some work with Rock the Vote and Declare Yourself, because I think we want to get everyone out to vote. I think it's about, you know, letting your voice be heard. But it's going to be a very tight race, man. It's very exciting. It's an exciting time in America.

KING: Speaking of race, the "American Idol" race. Every year, you say this is the best year. Is this really the best crop?

JACKSON: It really is.

KING: What makes it? The competitiveness?

JACKSON: The competitiveness this year, I think, potentially, if America picks it right, this could be the best top 10 or top 12 we have ever had. I think that what happens is we always want it to come down to a duel at the finish, right? May the best two stand toe to toe and belt it out and battle it out and both of them -- the best one is left standing. So I think this year we may get that honor. Boys and girls are really strong.

KING: Why are the shows popular where the people are terrible, too? You know, people are obviously bad. The early contestants, they still draw people?

JACKSON: I think this show has a lot of vicarious living through it. I think everyone at home can see themselves in one or two or three or four or five of these contestants and go, wow, I thought I could sing when I was working at the McDonald's or working at the soda machine with the Cokes and Pepsis. But, wow, man, you know, these kids, man, I thought I was good. And I think they can see themselves in these kids.

KING: It is tough to slam someone?

JACKSON: You know, I do it in the nicest of ways. I mean, it's not about slamming them. It's about just judging the singing talent. Simon is definitely a little bit more -- he is a little bit more of a raw edge to him. So, you know. It's great.

KING: Our guest is Randy Jackson. We'll be right back with Randy and we'll include some e-mails and phone calls too, as well.

Right now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He will host "AC 360" at the top of the hour.

Anderson, where are you tonight?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're right here in New York, Larry.

KING: Background looked different.

COOPER: It sure did. It's good to see you, good to see you with Randy. Right now, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are holding campaign rallies. He's in Austin, Texas. She's in Toledo, Ohio. Each campaign claiming victory in last night's debate. A lot of buzz tonight that Hillary Clinton's best moment right at the end might have been a kind of farewell message. She says no way. She's in it until the end. We'll explore her chances tonight.

Also in the hour ahead, you've been talking about it, the McCain controversy. New evidence raising questions about his rebuttal to that "New York Times" story, reviewing his relationships with lobbyists in general, and one female lobbyist in particular. Oddly enough, the new evidence comes from John McCain himself. We'll talk about that and more on the program tonight, Larry.

KING: That is Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360," 10:00 Easter, 7:00 Pacific. We'll be right back with Randy. Don't go away.


(SINGING) COWELL: It was awful. I'm sorry.


COWELL: I feel like I'm in like some commercial for washing up liquid in the 1960s.

JACKSON: Washing up liquid?

COWELL: You know, the blonde hair, the yellow, the happiness.


COWELL: I don't know who could impersonate you. (INAUDIBLE)




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Off key, "American Idol" under fire. They're blasting Idol for allowing contestants who previously had record deals.

Did you know Robby Keriko (ph) was in a band called Boys and Girls United that opened for Britney Spears? He reportedly dated Britney, too. Michael Johns had a record deal with a band called the Rising.

Under a different name, the Irish singing sensation was signed to a six-record deal with MCA records in 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if flopped, selling a scant 300 copies and the label dropped her. Interestingly, Idol judge Randy Jackson was a senior vice president of A&R at MCA when Carly was signed.


KING: OK, there is the controversy, Randy. Lay it out. Viewers complain that several of the season's contestants have too much experience, particular criticism of Carly Smithson who had an album. MCA reportedly spent over two million dollars producing and promoting it several years ago. The rule of the show is that a contestant can't have a current contract. Past contracts are OK. Right?

JACKSON: Right. That's been the rule since day one. The rules have never changed. I mean you just can't be currently signed to a record deal. Every season since the first season, kids would show up that were in some boy group or girl group or had failed record contracts. I think Kelly Clarkson was signed to some management contract.

I must say, people must understand if you're out there trying to make it in the entertainment business, especially music, you're going to try to get anyone you can to pay attention and sign you and do whatever you can. So, you know, if she came and she sold 300 copies of a record, that is not a lot of success. That is a bad look.

KING: Little rock, Arkansas, as we get a call for Randy Jackson. Hello.

CALLER: Larry? Good evening.

JACKSON: How are you?

CALLER: I have a quick question for you, Randy. I'm a new aspiring bassist player myself. I know you're an amazing bass player. What made you gravitate toward the bass guitar, as opposed to other musical instruments? And possibly, who were some of your great inspirations that drove you to such greatness?

JACKSON: It's funny for me. I grew up not far from you in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My brother used to rehearse in my mom's garage. He's a drummer. So I don't know. I mean I just fell in love with the bass. I tried playing guitar. I tried playing drums, played saxophone and key-boards for a while, and the bass just really spoke to me.

I mean, you know, I grew up on all the early Motown stuff. I loved all of the early Beatles stuff. I mean Paul McCartney, fell in love with Zeppelin. You know, just loved the bass.

KING: Was Paul McCartney a great bass player?

JACKSON: Amazing. Are you kidding? One of the legends of our time.

KING: And e-mail from Rachel in Colorado Springs, Are you friends with Simon Cowell? If you weren't both judges on "American Idol," is he someone you would spend time with?

JACKSON: Simon and I are really good friends. He and I and Ryan were hanging out a little bit last night. We're the best of buddies, as well as Paula, all of us. I mean, yes, I would hang out with him. He is actually a good guy. He's a good guy. He has a big heart. He doesn't like to show it.

KING: E-mail from June in Jamaica, "We see you drinking from a glass a lot on 'American Idol,' is it some kind of sugar free or special diabetic beverage?"

JACKSON: Basically, it's just water. I mean, sometimes I -- sometimes I have a little Diet Coke in it. So that's about it.

KING: That's it?

JACKSON: Yes. You know.

KING: Do you often -- are you often disappointed, in that you see a talent, you really think, this is terrific, and the public doesn't vote for them?

JACKSON: Yes, that happens a lot. I mean, you know, sometime the public doesn't see it the way we see it, or they don't hear it the way we hear it. You have seen it. These other couple shows right now, I mean, people don't even see it the way that -- the judges don't see it the same way some times. So that happens a lot.

KING: And vice versa, does the public vote for people you wonder what they're doing?

JACKSON: Yes. But I must say, with all the high jinx during the season of Idol, at least in the end, the public always seems to always get it right. I think we've had all the right winners.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with Randy Jackson right after this.


KING: Randy Jackson and I have the same illness. It is Type Two Diabetes. Millions of Americans have it. I had heart surgery and heart attack 22 years ago. You did, what, gastric bypass?

JACKSON: I had gastric bypass. I was just really, really overweight. And I just -- I didn't know what was wrong with me. You know, I was really sick. I had been feeling sick for a couple weeks. My wife finally urged me, said listen, you should go to the doctor and check this out. And finally I went to the doctor. I thought I had a cold. I was lethargic, tired, really thirsty all the time, urinating all the time.

I went to the doctor. He said, yes, you have Type Two Diabetes. I tried to fight it with all kinds of diets and stuff. So two years later, I went and had gastric bypass, which tremendously helped to reverse it.

KING: What do they do when they do that?

JACKSON: Basically, they go in and they make a bypass in the small intestine and the stomach. They make it tremendously smaller. I had the Fobi (ph) method, and they put a ring around the top of the stomach opening, so that you have to really chew every morsel that you swallow. So I mean, you know, it is really funny. During Idol this season, a couple of PSAs have run during the show. I do something with the American Heart Association and a pharmaceutical, this thing called Heart of Diabetes.

And, you know, people say why you are doing it? Why do you let people know? It was part of my plight to bring awareness to the disease. You know, like myself, most men, most people hate going to the doctors. You know, you can control this disease. But, you know, you need to really get it checked.

KING: A higher percentage per capita of blacks have it than whites.

JACKSON: Yes, it's huge in the African-American population. So, you know that, is another thing I want to bring the awareness to it. I run into people that say, man, I'm glad you're speaking out on it. And, you know, I'm now checking my numbers. And, you know, we have a Web site There's and 800-number, 1-800-AHAUSA1. We made it simple and easy so people can find out some information.

KING: Did the operation scare you?

JACKSON: It really did scare me. You know, for a guy that doesn't like doctors, you know I'm not going to like an operation. So I mean it was a drastic step for me to take. You know, the statistics are one in 200 have serious complications, even die. It's a drastic step to take. It helped me tremendously.

KING: How long was the recovery period?

JACKSON: The recovery period took about three months for me. But I mean, you know, I shed 123 pounds. So it was a great jump- start. And brought me on the road to like a healthier lifestyle. And it's -- you know, I'm from Louisiana in the south, Larry. People eat --

KING: I know.

JACKSON: Eat very, very rich foods. I was just down there last year. We did "Idol Gives Back." I did something down there with the Save the Children guys. And just walking around to all the families and just seeing the food, you know, fast food is very prevalent. You know, you eat whatever you can find, whatever you can afford. And it's just tough. It's tough.

KING: You want to spot an early winner for "American Idol" winner? Anyone you spotted.

JACKSON: I got to tell you, this time I do believe that it's going to be so tight and so close. It could be a boy or girl right now. But I must say, I think that girls have the slight edge.

KING: Just a slight edge?

JACKSON: Just a slight edge. Just a slight edge. I don't know. It's going to come down to the wire. Hopefully, it will come down to a boy and girl battling it out at the end.

KING: Now we're in what, 24 left?

JACKSON: There were 24 this week. Now we're in to the top 20 this next week. So you have to watch Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on Fox. It's hot. It's going to be rocking sock em.

KING: Three nights a week?

JACKSON: Three nights a week until we get down to our top 12.

KING: It's all live, right

JACKSON: All live now. All live and America's voting. It's up to America. It's in their hands.

KING: Always great seeing you, my man.

JACKSON: Good to see you man, good to see you.

KING: Randy Jackson, one of the good guys.

What guests would you most like to see on LARRY KING LIVE? Head to our Web site,, send us an e-mail. We're calling it Viewer's Choice, and we're ready to hear from you.

While you're there, download this week's podcast, Jon Stewart.

On Monday's LARRY KING LIVE, Elton John is our special guest. I'm going to go to his great party on Hollywood's biggest night. We'll have a lot to show and tell and see you then.

Now, here's my idol, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." You win my vote, Anderson.