It’s been two years since Kara DioGuardi joined American Idol as the fourth judge, yet viewers still question her position at the judging table.
“A lot of still ask, ‘Who is that girl sitting next to Ellen and Simon?,'” she told a sold-out crowd at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, where she performed the first of two concerts on Friday night. “I wanted to get out there and show a different side of me and show I do know what I am talking about.”
This season, DioGuardi, 39, has garnered the support of the blunt and often confrontational Simon Cowell.
“It surprises me when Simon agrees with me. I think to myself ‘Is something wrong? Is someone paying you?’ And then I realize ‘Oh you already have enough money,’ ” she joked to the audience.
She adds, “We’ve been getting along splendidly. I have mad respect for Simon. I kind of look up to him. He’s a bit older than me … way older than me — like 30 years!”
Perched on a stool next to guitarist and occasional writing collaborator Mitch Allan, DioGuardi performed an intimate acoustic set of songs she’s penned for pop artists ranging from Christina Aguilera to Idol alums Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson.
DioGuardi, who wore a loose-fitting sleeveless blouse and knee high boots over black tights, embodied the pop artists that she grooms on Idol. Yet she says there are no plans to cut a record. “I really love being a songwriter and I don’t want to be that judge up there plugging albums. I want the concentration to be on the kids.”
The songwriter told PEOPLE backstage, “Being on Idol changed my thinking. Being around the other judges really inspires me. I feel like the sky is the limit. I am just a songwriter who is lucky enough to be on American Idol.”
While mum on her picks for the season, she says she “believes in Casey,” and explained to PEOPLE why she was moved to tears when Michael Lynche performed “This Woman’s Work” on Wednesday night.
“It’s my favorite song and I always get sad when I hear it,” she admits. — Carlos Greer