American Idol may have faced stiff competition in recent years from The Voice and, to a lesser extent, The X Factor, but one thing the show can brag about, at least at this point, is that it alone has managed to produce actual hit-making, chart-topping artists.  In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe explained why he thinks that is, and warned that we shouldn't get too excited about the show's most recent success, Phillip Phillips.

"I do think that other shows tend to concentrate a little more on, maybe, gimmicks, maybe their judges a little too much," Lythgoe told reporters when asked to reveal Idol'ssecret to producing actual stars.  Lythgoe did admit, quite rightly, that he himself had "just experienced two months of talking about our new judges," but added, "Hopefully, the programs themselves will show you that we're still focusing on the contestants."

In addition to keeping the focus on the contestants, Lythgoe says that the sheer number of people who tune in and vote for their favorite Idol are the ones responsible for subsequently buying the finalists' records when the show is over.  "They want to see them successful after the show, as well, once you've invested in somebody," he said.

Lythgoe said he's "thrilled" with the success that the show's most recent champ, Phillip Phillips, has had with his triple-platinum single "Home" and top 10 debut album, but he says he's not ready to declare Phillip the show's savior either.

"We tend, thank goodness, to produce the goods at the end of a series, but it's maintaining them, too," Lythgoe told reporters.  "Phillip's still got to prove himself, you know. We can't just sort of jump up and down and go, 'Wow, he's a major star now.'  There's a long way to go to be the next Carrie Underwood, who sustains so well, Kelly Clarkson who sustains so well, [or]  Daughtry."

The executive producer added, "You know, I'm not one of these people that just want to wave a flag and go, 'American Idol, the greatest thing.'  We're a springboard, but one record does not make a career.  I have every belief that Phillip will make a career 'cause I think he's hugely talented."

Season 12 of American Idol debuts next Wednesday, and Lythgoe says this time around, each of the four judges Mariah CareyRandy JacksonNicki Minaj and Keith Urban -- have a distinct idea of the kind of contestant they're looking for. "They all have their own agendas," is how he puts it.

"I think Nicki is looking for an artist.  I think Mariah is looking for the complete singer-songwriter," Lythgoe explained, and laughed, "Randy is looking for somebody that sings on pitch!"

As for Keith, Lythgoe, says he "isn't just looking for a country star."  Instead, he says, "Keith is looking for an instrumentalist, a good singer and somebody that can capture that sort of magic charisma, if you will, and connect with the public."  Kind of like Keith himself.