LOS ANGELES — Next week, “American Idol” will welcome a new cast member — Tommy Hilfiger, who joins the country’s top-rated show in the newly created post of “image adviser.”

“I thought it would be exciting and challenging and different, a place where I could use all of my experience in fashion and music,” said Hilfiger, who spoke exclusively with WWD on Tuesday at the CBS Studios soundstage where “Idol” is taped. The designer was sequestered in a dressing room during rehearsals because his addition to the show had not yet been revealed to contestants.

This story first appeared in the March 8, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The move could give Fox’s “Idol” — now in the mix with “The Voice,” “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent” — an edge over the competition. It also represents yet another move by a designer into the world of reality television — although one distinct from yet another show based around the vagaries of fashion. Hilfiger had his own fashion reality show, “The Cut,” on CBS in 2004.

“It does give the show a different slant because none of the others have the fashion angle,” said Hilfiger. “If you look at what makes a star, it’s not only musical talent, it’s the complete package. And that includes image. If you look at great superstars from Michael Jackson to Madonna and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry today, they each have a unique style and that adds to their persona. It’s the icing on the cake.”

“The notion of helping our contestants define what their style is not only musically but also in their look is something we have talked about for years, so it’s great to get Tommy,” said Cécile Frot-Coutaz, one of the show’s executive producers and chief executive officer of production company FremantleMedia North America. “It brings a different layer to the show and hopefully people will like it. More importantly, it’s organic to the notion of creating stars. The biggest benefit will be helping contestants define their visual as well as their vocal style.”

After Hilfiger is introduced on air next week, he will meet with each contestant in his design studio, which will be full of clothes and accessories.

“I will look at where they were, where they are today and the possibility of where they could go,” he said. “Because I don’t think their image will evolve without some trial and error. We need to take into consideration their ages, color preferences, sizes, what types of music they will be performing, what they wear on their feet and how they wear their hair. There is going to be a real package put together on each person.”

Hilfiger will use a mix of resources to help contestants to find their own styles — which may or may not include his own designs. “There are different sets of talent and certainly a country singer will not want to dress like a punk rocker. It will be up to me to help them determine what their image should be. Maybe one of the contestants should be in French designer clothes and one should be in Western gear. I think people with great style mix it up, so I would be remiss in thinking I could dress them in one brand,” he said.

With his own history rooted in music, Hilfiger seems tailor-made for the job. His first store, which he opened at age 18, sold rock-inspired clothing. Over the years, he has dressed everyone from Britney Spears and Lenny Kravitz to the Rolling Stones, Beyoncé Knowles and Usher. “I’ve always been very close to pop culture within my own imagery and my brand and that has kept me close to music as my inspiration. Fashion doesn’t only come from the runway. Many times it comes from the stage,” he said.

Frot-Coutaz said she hopes that some of Hilfiger’s image-making looks could become trend-setting in their own right. “We’ve had our fair share of train wrecks,” she said. “It would be great to get to a place where some of the outfits we put together could be talked about the next day.”

When taping starts next week, Hilfiger said he plans “to be myself and ignore the camera.” He’s also prepared to take the flack for some of his choices on the show.

“I’m sure I’ll be criticized, but I am prepared for that,” the designer said. “You just let it roll off your back. If you take it seriously, that takes the fun out of it. I’m not looking at this as a job or a burden. It’s going to be enlightening and fun.”

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