Among the changes for the upcoming tenth season of American Idol (premiering Jan. 19 on Fox) is a new music director to fill the seat Rickey Minor vacated when he left to lead The Tonight Show band at the end of Season 9. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Ray Chew, a veteran of television music shows, has been handed the title and is already hard at work coming up with arrangements for the new crop of contestants.
Chew has served as bandleader and musical director for such programs as NBC’s It’s Showtime at the Apollo and The Singing Bee. He also curated all the music for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where Idol alum Jennifer Hudson sang the national anthem, and the inaugural ball ushering in Barack Obama’s presidency in January 2009, which featured performances by Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, and Sting, along with an unforgettable rendition of Etta James’ “At Last,” sung by Beyoncé as the first couple had their first dance.
In fact, when it comes to music’s greatest divas, Chew has pretty much worked with them all, including Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Alicia Keys, who thanked him at the 2005 Grammy Awards after winning three trophies for her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys. When Keys toured for that record, Chew conducted a 63-piece orchestra for her Hollywood Bowl stop, which was later released as a DVD. More recently, he performed alongside Rihanna as the pianist and conductor on her worldwide hit, “Unfaithful.”
Chew considers Quincy Jones, whom he first met as a teenager, a longtime mentor. In the 80s, he was a player on the Saturday Night Live band and at Apollo, he was witness to early performances by the likes of Lauryn Hill and Ne-Yo on the show’s amateur night.
Asked what advice he’s learned and applied to his own work, Chew said in a recent interview, “It's sink or swim. You can't tread water; you have to actually go somewhere. If you're treading water and imagine yourself out in the middle of the ocean or large lake, you can only tread water for so long. If you're swimming, you got a chance; you got a shot. You might swim to a log or something or some place where you can catch your breath and keep swimming.”
With a musical resume that’s a mile long, Chew has certainly had an impressive and inspiring career. Check out some highlights in the reel below.