Simon Cowell was a hater, and I loved it. Every eye-roll, every scaff (scoff/laugh combo), every pun-laced insult. Sometimes he was mean, but he was always right. I agreed with him. I could call it even before it got to him.
“No, that’s wasn’t that good. Watch, Simon’s going to call them on it. Here come the boos.”
In the earlier years of American Idol, you’d hear a performance that made the audience erupt with cheer. Randy would praise it as solid. Paula cried like a drunk college girl reminiscing with friends she secretly hated. Simon was always going to give it to you straight.
“Average at best.”
“Solid, but nothing special.”
“Quite boring, really.”
You could tell as the years progressed, the producers must have told him to lighten up. I would tell him that too if it was my show. He was hurting the credibility and long term potential for the show to make money off of losing contestants. Now, each season, you’ll see multiple AI alums release albums on iTunes.
What, you didn’t notice?
When I’m in my home studio/office/guest bedroom on weekday nights, I hear the living room TV blasting the most current nationally televised karaoke contest. Once or twice a broadcast, suddenly I’m engulfed by silence. The DVR is paused. The quiet is broken by my girlfriend yelling at me to come out. I’ll walk, begrudgingly; stand there, listen, and 99/100 times, the performers fall into two categories:
They aren’t special, and will never do anything in the end.
They are special, but will never do anything in the end.
I believe the original tagline for American Idol was to find the next “superstar.” We have double digit winners, but barely enough superstars to count on one hand.
There are exceptions to the rule. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, maybe Adam Lambert. That’s about it. Daughtry isn’t my style, but he is killing it.
Notice I didn’t name any of the other “winners.” They are a dime a dozen singers with a good to great voice. Fantasia, Ruben Stoddard, Lee Brice, Kris Allen. I can’t think of anyone in the top ten of any show that actually did something significant, barring a few outliers. When I lived in California, I saw a poster for a production of Grease which featured Taylor Hicks as the “Teen Angel.”
I can’t tell you who won, or who was even on X-Factor, The Voice, whatever. I know that the guy who won the first season of The Voice was a dude who wore his hat to the side too much and played guitar. I listened to his album that was released post-victory, and it was unbelievably bland and generic.
The guy has a solid voice, but the album sounded like the sub-par acoustic-guitar equivalent of a crooner doing classic Frank Sinatra songs. He had two solo albums come out before the Voice. There’s a reason why you had never heard from him before, and probably won’t again.
One Direction was formed by five guys who each individually tried out for X-Factor and were passed on. They were advised to form a group by one of the show’s judges (supposedly), which they did, re-auditioned, finished third overall, and are now a teen sensation. Music isn’t Moneyball. Record execs aren’t hiring Brad Pitt trying to find cheap talent who are good at one thing to fill in the gaps and beat other boy-band teams. They’ll be gone in a year or two (but man, are their choruses catchy).
Sometimes the winners of these shows are actually legitimately talented, but it feels like the corporations running them crank out winners and dismiss them just as quick. The image and production of the show is more important, but that makes sense as they are the real money makers, not the winning contestant. No time or effort goes into the final product. They hit reset faster than a kid who messed up the Konami Code on Contra.
Because of the success of a few, the show banks on the celebrity and exposure to translate into creative and musical success. David Archuleta was/is super talented, and isn’t even 23 yet. His last album wasn’t even on a major label, and was mostly covers. If I was running a label, I would snatch him up in a second, take my time, and market him as some Frankenstein combination of Michael McDonald, Bieber, and Michael Buble.
I’ll admit that I hate, I’m jealous, and I’m stubborn. I’m an honorary invitee to the Player Hater’s Ball. Still, I don’t take on an argument unless I believe I am right, or can’t show a ridiculous amount of evidence to persuade that I’m probably right. I’m only able to base my evaluations from what I’ve seen on these shows, but if these contestants were truly legit, wouldn’t we hear from them otherwise? Elliott Yamin was the only guy who, post AI dismissal, seemed to generate significant indie interest in himself, and put out two very solid rnb/pop/blues albums.
Removing trends and fads, in the present industry there are four distinct characteristics that seem to define a creative, financially successful artist who is around for the long run. I’m only counting singers/rappers. Bands/DJs are a different animal. Pre-90s was a whole other ballgame.
The first three traits are the most important. You need three of the four, or must be so overwhelmingly good/blessed with two to compensate for lack of the third.
- Write and/or produce most of or all of your own, quality songs.
- Exceptional voice.
- An overwhelming positive physical ability or character aspect (looks, youth, compelling story, dancing, backing of someone already successful), AKA luck or winning the genetic lottery.
Examples that have at least three of these traits: Justin Timberlake (All 4), Brian McKnight (All), Michael Jackson, (All), Drake (All, his flow/lyrics instead of voice), Christina Aguilera (1,2,3), Kanye West (All, ditto to Drake), Lady GaGa (1,3,4), Jason Mraz (All), John Mayer (1,3,4).
Then there are those that have two, but with explanation: Rihanna (3,4) can’t sing very well, but the songs written for her are infectious, and the producers she works with are the most innovative in the business (Kanye, Stargate). Katy Perry (1,4) can write hits, and hit the jackpot in genetics. I can’t stand Nicki Minaj (1,3), but her flow is strange and captivating. I don’t think I need to go into uniqueness.
The whole point of this post isn’t to tell you why all these contestants suck, because they don’t. Hell, a lot of them can sing a whole lot better than me. Still, you can’t sing a song written by someone else, produced by someone else, and performed by another person all together, and expect me to be impressed.
So what am I? For now, just a 1 and 3. I hope that I develop enough skill that if I’m not an artist myself, I am writing/producing for others.
I am signed up for the Voice auditions in NYC this year. Not sure if I am going.
The two songs I have been touting with producers from Chicago could be up as soon as next week. They are complete from my end, and have been sent off to mixed and mastered by professionals. I recorded a quick, acoustic version of one of the two songs AA, and its up on YouTube.
Recommendation: You’ve probably heard at least two to three of his songs on the radio, but you may not know who he is. Miguel is a singer/songwriter, and his latest hit “Adorn” sounds like his body was possessed by Marvin Gaye. The resonating bass synth takes over the song, but only in the right spots to let the electric piano wobble and guide you through the rest. His first album is solid, but his second effort, 2012’s Kaleidoscope Dream, and been heavily praised by critics, and it’s a no-skip album.
REED is a songwriter/producer out of Philadelphia, creating haunting music with a heavy emphasis on the specifics. Ben Reed, born in Chadds Ford, PA, began releasing his own style of Electro-Soul earlier this summer, and continues to produce tracks that infect your memory with catchy hooks enhanced by relatable, detailed lyrics. Reed is a self-taught guitarist and pianist, who writes, sings, produces, and masters all his own material. Formerly of an acoustic songwriting-duo, Reed played numerous shows along the East Coast, and gained a respectable following nation-wide via local radio play and social media sites. In late 2011, after moving back to Pennsylvania from a 2 year stay for a job in Huntington Beach, CA, REED purchased a new Taylor guitar and began writing music again, but this time expanding to a newer, unique sound by combining electro, soul, rnb, and pop.