Cover Songs: Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Get Enough of Them

I love cover songs. I think it is totally awesome when artists sing another artist’s song, especially during concerts because it mixes things up a little bit. On her recent “Stronger” tour, Kelly Clarkson performed at least 3 cover songs at each stop: 2 were part of the setlist (Florence + the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms” and Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t”) plus a fan request. I’ve heard Maroon 5 sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” James Morrison and Diane Birch once performed “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John Mayer has sung “Free Fallin” and “Gone.” Justin Timberlake sang “This Love” at one of his benefit concerts (even though he technically performed that with Maroon 5). This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on with amazing covers.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized where I draw the line when it comes to covers. Hearing covers in concert is one thing because I’m watching an artist I’m a fan of so they can’t do much wrong in my books. But over the years, watching so many TV shows where covers abound like Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, and now with Glee + Smash, my reaction to song choices vary from the usual groan and eye-roll when a song that’s been OVERDONE is sung again (11 years of Idol will turn you into a cynic) or total excitement. There has been countless times when we’ve heard female contestants sing songs by Mariah, Whitney, Celine, etc. even though they don’t have the range for it. But then there are a lot of cases where singers do a fantastic job covering the song by either changing up the song to fit their style (Hello David Cook’s version of “Always Be My Baby” and Kris Allen’s “Heartless” that’s STILL on my iPod) or just simply singing the HELL out of the song. Some covers are even better than the original. Glee, in my opinion, does this the best – take an okay song or one that’s entirely overplayed and make it better/worth listening to (i.e. Blame It On the Alcohol, Teenage Dream, We Found Love). For certain songs though, I’ve found that I can’t even like the cover, despite how good it might be.

In the episode of Glee entitled “On My Way”, the Troubletones sang Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”. I was excited to hear it, but at the same time, it was like “Why couldn’t they pick another song?” I think it comes down to the fact that it was a single and I like Glee better when they’re not doing songs that are already on the radio. After I heard it, I felt kind of indifferent about it – it was good but I didn’t really like it. Why? I realized that I’m fiercely protective of when anyone sings Kelly’s songs. I mean I love Kelly Clarkson – she’s one of my favourite artists ever and I love her songs like they are the soundtrack to my life. So for me, I don’t think anyone should ever sing her songs, unless they can do the original justice.  Megan Hilty sang “Breakaway” on a recent episode of Smash and though there’s no denying that she has a great voice, I didn’t feel as though it carried the same weight as Kelly’s original. But again, maybe that’s because “Breakaway” was such a big song for Kelly. Then on Glee, at the end of the episode “Choke”, Lea Michele sang “Cry” off of Kelly’s “All I Ever Wanted” album and I thought she did a fantastic job with the song. It fit nicely with the storyline and worked well with Rachel Berry’s feelings, so it didn’t feel forced. Actually, it was a nice reminder of what Glee was like when it started. Now of course it really is a track-by-track basis, in terms of what I’m willing to accept.

Christina Aguilera is probably one of the best voices in the industry; she’s got a diva voice. We’ve heard people sing “Beautiful” and “The Voice Within” among other Christina songs, and it’s usually met with the same eye-roll and groan. I thought Amber Riley did a good job singing “Beautiful” on Glee, but I definitely was not happy about Darren Criss singing “Fighter” in the episode “Big Brother.” Not that there was anything really wrong with his version, but “Fighter” is one of my all-time favourite songs and no matter how much angst we’re supposed to feel from the storyline, it just can’t match Christina’s sheer power.

Then there’s Adele. Over the span of this past year, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been covered. Scratch that, over the span of the past 6 months, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been sung on TV. I’ll admit I liked  Angel Taylor and Mathai’s attempts at singing “Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It”, respectively, during their blind auditions on The Voice. Before that, Glee did a great mash-up of those 2 songs as well. But now it’s just plain old fatigue of hearing people try to sing Adele. Just stop please.

It’s not just songs by these artists with big voices being covered that have me  up in arms. I have deliberately  sort of avoided American Idol this past season because it got tiring, with the theme weeks and the judges making no sense. But there was the one week where the theme was songs from this decade (so, the past three years in music). Seeing what the set list was ahead of time, I found it to be an interesting line-up, so I actually attempted to watch the show that week (in between my regular television shows of course). I only came out disappointed, feeling like it was a slap in the face because they not only ruined 2 Kelly Clarkson songs, but also a Maroon 5 song. I know, one should not compare a contestant’s rendition to the original, but let’s be real, it’s inevitable and you can’t help it. The contestant in question, Phillip Phillips, re-arranged Maroon 5’s “Give A Little More”. I’ll embed both versions below and judge for yourself. But while the original has a sexy quality to it (what Adam Levine does seamlessly), Phillip re-arranged it somehow to make it cheesy (Saxophone? Really?). This also doesn’t mean The Voice gets off scott-free either because I was REALLY not impressed with RaeLynn singing “Wake Up Call”. Sure the song can be made country but not by RaeLynn, sorry Blake. And I know Adam seemed to like it, but as a fan, I was not having any of it.

Those are the artists, who in recent weeks/months have been covered that I’ve had problems with. On the flip side, I always love a good Britney Spears cover. I love Britney, and to me, she’s pure pop royalty. People can say what they want about Britney, but damn does she not have some great catchy pop songs? I love it when people cover Britney because her songs aren’t obvious choices. When people hear Britney, they just hear the music because she’s never really been known as a vocalist (which she isn’t and we all know that). So hearing someone sing a Britney song, gives a somewhat cool factor. Naturally, when Tony Lucca sang “…Baby One More Time” on The Voice, I flipped out because the whole thing was just PURE GENIUS. Same song, different show – Marty Casey was absolutely brilliant with his version on Rock Star INXS back in 2005. In concert, I’ve heard Kate Voegele sing “Till the World Ends” and again, I geeked out.

Consider this me ranting about song choices on TV shows (reality or otherwise). Also, a justifiable excuse for me to post videos of some cool/awesome (and I guess one not-so-great) covers. Enjoy!

American Idol: What Does the Latest Season Mean for the Show’s Future?

I’ve made it known that as of late, The Voice is my singing competition of choice. Regardless of that fact, American Idol is still the biggest show on television (despite declining ratings) and yet with Phillip Phillips’ win on season 11 of the show, you can’t help but wonder how this affects the show’s future. Phillip’s win marks the 5th straight year a “white guy with guitar” has won the show, beating vocal powerhouse, 16 year old Jessica Sanchez for the title.

I can certainly make the case that when David Cook and Kris Allen won seasons 7 & 8, it was justified regardless of naysayers. Both seasons ended up being a close match between the final 2. In season 7, David Cook took it over David Archuleta, and I bet that in its current state, had there been a re-do Archuleta would’ve won the overwhelming teenage vote. But Cook won on his own merits: not only was he a great singer, but he proved to be rather adept at rearranging songs to fit his style and make it contemporary. Also, let’s be honest, the game of Idol (and every other singing competition) changed after that amazing season 7, which featured a multitude of true artists and not just your standard singers. In season 8, Kris Allen, the underdog of the season, beat Adam Lambert, who was long considered the one to beat with his incredible vocal range and knack for the dramatic. And yet, that ability to stir up controversy and divide people with a “love him or hate him” sensibility, might have been Adam’s downfall, because Kris appealed to a wider, more general group of people. Kris’ arrangements, like Cook, ultimately helped him win as well, because it sounded like something that was radio-ready.

Season 9 was when things started going downhill, at least for me anyways. It was Simon’s last year and you felt as though he was kind of phoning it in. The contestants themselves weren’t all that memorable either. I can name the winner and runner-up with ease (that’d be Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox), but I’m honestly struggling to name anybody else. Season 10 I dropped roughly halfway through the live shows because I continuously found myself having issues with watching the show, watching the judges give non-critiques, singers and their bad song choices…Not to mention, I’m not a huge country fan so that final 2 of Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina wasn’t all that compelling/appealing to me.

So back to the point with Phillip Phillips winning this season, especially against someone like Jessica who just killed it week in and week out, it makes you question whether a female can ever win this thing again. The conspiracy is that these WGWG win because they are very marketable and so on, but at the same time, how do you explain their record sales? David Cook and Kris Allen’s record sales were decent but not great, and despite the fact that their albums were very well put together and certainly enjoyable. Lee DeWyze has the unfortunate distinction of being the Idol winner with the lowest sales numbers for his debut album. Scotty McCreery managed to get a pretty good number of albums sold, but Scotty is also firmly planted in the country world, which has been nothing but accepting of former Idol contestants. But Idol has always prided itself on the fact that they find “superstars”, and yet the last real superstar they found was Carrie Underwood…back in season 4. We can probably extend this to season 5, when Chris Daughtry competed, and even though he didn’t win his season, he is one of the most successful artists to come out of Idol. So what does this say about Idol? Has it lost its touch? Or is this just a reflection of the music industry today?

I’m inclined to say that it’s a little bit of both. If Idol really is about finding a “superstar” as it claims it does, then Adam Lambert probably should’ve won season 8, and Jessica Sanchez or even Joshua Ledet should’ve won this season. But the fact of the matter is, these WGWG wins is adding up to be bad business for the Idol machine. Some say these guys are marketable, others say they add up to other artists out there who fit the WGWG mold. Let’s be real here, the labels who release these Idol winner & runner-up albums don’t do very much in marketing these so-called marketable artists, except the obligatory ad + CD sticker saying “Hey! Here’s the album from this year’s American Idol winner!” Not to mention, they rush the production of the album to get it out by November, which is a time where a lot of the big name albums come out. How does anyone expect these new artists to compete with more established names? Granted, like I said previously, David Cook and Kris Allen’s debut albums were very solid efforts, taking everything into consideration, but as a fan of theirs, I feel like more could’ve been done in the marketing area. It’s also true that the WGWG exists all too frequently in the music world, and only a handful are able to breakthrough to the mainstream, at any given time. Honest, the most well-known WGWG in this generation is John Mayer. He came to the scene at a time when the music world was filled with boy bands and female pop singers. Jason Mraz had a few minor hits, but you couldn’t really consider him a big name until he released “I’m Yours.” So where exactly does this leave all these other guys, who pretty much play into the same group, are equally talented, but don’t quite have the ubiquitous hit song that ultimately gets overplayed on mainstream radio and makes them more well-known? Guys like James Morrison, Tyler Hilton, Matt Nathanson, Ry Cuming, Jason Reeves, just to name a few. I know I listen to these guys because they make great music, but they aren’t nearly as famous as they should be.

But then there’s also the issue of demographics. The ones who are most likely to vote for the American Idol winner are teenage girls. They can vote all they want, but that doesn’t necessarily carry over to album sales. They are more likely to (illegally) download the album, because they’re crafty like that, than buy the actual album. Same goes with the fact that Idol may get 16 million viewers (on average), but of those millions, how many watch it simply as a television show and when it’s done, they move onto something else? There is also then an issue of mainstream radio and the general music industry accepting singers coming from Idol. Sure, Idol is this great platform for new artists, but at the same time, the regular music listener/”fan” might be a little adverse to Idol contestants and not taking them seriously. While we’re on this topic, let’s talk Grammys. American Idol has been around since 2002, and it wasn’t until 2006 that a former Idol contestant (in this case, first season winner Kelly Clarkson) won a Grammy, and the following year, Carrie Underwood became the only contestant to win Best New Artist.

It is important to note that the music industry is very fickle. Especially lately, almost everything you hear on the radio is dance-centric music, with few exceptions. There’s practically no room for these WGWG to make a dent in the rotation unless they have a bonafide hit single that is loved by the masses. Actually, that applies to almost everyone, unless you are a highly beloved/established artist or you play straight into the teenage girl demographic (Bieber, One Direction…I sound old by saying it, even though I’m not, but I don’t get them)

So with all this being said, what does Phillip’s win mean for the future of American Idol? Well, we may have to wait and see how his album will sell late in the year. But at this point, I don’t think a girl can ever win the show again. Not unless some changes get made in the voting system. It would also help if the judge’s critiques were actually fair and not utterly biased, as well as being a tad bit more critical. I’m not saying the judges have to be Simon Cowell, but some real constructive criticism would be great. All I’m saying is that Idol is getting stale, and if they still want to be considered the greatest singing competition on the air, they’re going to need to do a lot more than bashing the other shows.

‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Results Show Cancelled? Why?!

2012 started out not so well for dance fans, when news hit that FOX had cancelled the results show for the upcoming 9th season of ‘So You Think You Can Dance‘. Executive producer and resident judge, Nigel Lythgoe tweeted the news on Sunday, which came as a shock to fans. FOX has yet to release an official statement on the news.

For many, the news of SYTYCD’s results show being cut is seen as being a step in the right direction for reality competition TV. We’ve all complained at one point or another how other reality shows like ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ have unnecessarily long and drawn-out results shows. ‘American Idol‘ especially, is the biggest culprit of tediously long results shows, when the results of who gets sent home can/is announced in the last 5 minutes of the show. The rest of the hour is all filler with a painful group performance by the contestants, shameless promotion of a Ford vehicle, a guest performance, and the aforementioned drawn out results with countless repeatings of “Dim the lights!” and “We’ll find out…after the break!” This is not to say that ‘Dancing With the Stars‘ is any better, as instead of shameless promotion, they feature increasingly lame “comedic” filler segments, along with the usual guest performances. Both shows could use, at the very least, a cut in the results show length from one hour to a half-hour. Actually, I remember when Idol used to have half-hour results shows and at some point, they decided to increase it to one hour.

Personally, I never had a problem with SYTYCD results shows. They had a formula that worked and it didn’t feel like the results were being dragged on. Show starts with a group performance, cue opening title sequence, we find out the bottom 3 couples, special performance from the dance world, contestants dance for their lives, judges deliberate while musical guest performance takes place, find out who gets sent home – all that in one hour, doesn’t seem so bad. Now with the news that the results show is cancelled, there’s going to be some big changes to accommodate the situation. Sure, results shows aren’t particularly necessary seeing as how shows like ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’, ‘The Sing-Off’ and ‘The Voice’ have all made due with being on once a week. Let’s also not forget that SYTYCD in its first season didn’t have a results show, and because season 6 aired during the fall, the first 3 weeks of competition also didn’t feature a results show, with the judges determining the bottom 3 and who got sent home in the same episode. If SYTYCD adopts a similar format to ABDC, which is sort of what they did for the first few weeks of season 6, then it’s not so bad.

Like I said, I never really had a problem with the SYTYCD results shows. The thing I probably hate most about no results show for SYTYCD is that we probably won’t get the group routine. The group routine was my favourite part of the results shows, and a lot of them have become so memorable. Can you imagine if they never started doing results shows in season 2? We might not have gotten “Ramalama” or “Calle Ocho” in season 5 or “El Fuego” in season 8 – those were damn good group routines. Granted, season 8 started incorporating some more group routines during the performance shows, in lieu of another couple routine, but it’s just not the same. The results show group performance was sort of free of a dance style restriction. Sure, sometimes they did fall under certain styles, but you look at “Calle Ocho” which was a hip-hop/ballroom fusion and “Ramalama” was certainly like nothing else we’d seen on the show and to this day, is arguably the best group routine the show’s ever done.

Yes, the news that the results show is being cancelled comes with lots of pros and cons. My biggest gripe with this news, which not a lot of people are really considering, is that SYTYCD is a SUMMER show. As it is, there aren’t a lot of options as to what to watch during the summer. I don’t see why FOX feels the need to cancel an hour of programming in the form of the SYTYCD results show, when they probably don’t have anything else to air. If they do have something else, it’s probably another reality show of some form. So why cut SYTYCD to one night? If this was the regular TV season, it make sense to cut an hour or a half-hour of a results show, so they have room for other shows, that way long hiatuses aren’t necessary. Yes, I get that Idol has the highest number of viewers of any show. But how fair is it to, say fans of ‘Fringe’ which in its first season was put on hiatus for 2 months because of Idol? No freshman series should ever have that long of a hiatus, seeing as how many are still trying to get viewers (or in the case of Fringe, 4 seasons later, still looking for viewers in order to stay on the air). And yet, ‘Glee’ had to endure a 4-month hiatus in its first season as well, even though it was a hit and already had viewers.

At the end of the day, none of this really makes sense to me. Results shows may not be completely necessary, but we’re talking the summer TV season, in which case, I will gladly take an extra hour of SYTYCD over a re-run or some other stupid reality show the network tries to get me to watch.

Pop Culture Randomness Post #2

Today’s been a big day (in my opinion) for pop culture news, so a rundown of what’s out there in celebrity news.

  • Maroon 5’s New Single: The New York Post got the exclusive preview of Maroon 5’s first single from their forthcoming album, Hands All Over. The song, Misery, is classic M5 material and I, for one, CANNOT WAIT until I get to hear this song live during their tour. The song will be available for digital download tomorrow.
  • Engagement!: Orlando Bloom & Miranda Kerr are engaged! I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to comment on this but regardless, good for them! It seems like they’ve been dating forever (3 years), and plus the fact that they’ve been dodging engagement rumours practically the entire time, it feels like this announcement was overdue.
  • Boy Bands Unite: So according to this People.com article, fans attending Saturday night’s New Kids on the Block concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York were treated with a special surprise…the Backstreet Boys showed up to perform with NKOTB! That’s just hilariously awesome.
  • Glee Casting News: Despite shooting down recent rumours, new singing sensation (Oprah’s a fan and if Oprah likes her, she’s got to be good) Charice will be appearing on Glee next season. According to Ausiello over at EW.com, the singer is signed on for a recurring role as a foreign exchange student who will give Rachel Berry a run for her money. Frankly, Mercedes is already someone with a big voice to compete with Rachel, so I don’t find it entirely necessary that Rachel gets an “official rival.” But hey, it’s a high school show, and what high school doesn’t have its share of foreign exchange students?
  • Gossip Girl Casting News: Fleur Delacour is Chuck’s rebound! Clemence Posey, the actress who plays Fleur in Harry Potter, has been cast as Eva, the girl who will be Chuck Bass’ new “Blair.” Needless to say, that cliffhanger of a season finale where we saw Chuck getting shot will end well, because he’ll clearly be alive and kicking in Paris with his new girl.
  • Show Renewal: Only 2 episodes into its third season, HBO has decided to renew True Blood for a 4th season. I’m actually a recent True Blood convert – summer is always tough for me with the lack of stuff to watch on TV, but I decided to start watching the show and caught up just in time for the 3rd season premiere. It’s a fantastic show and that’s all I’ve got to say about it.
  • American Idol Change: So Seacrest broke the news today that Idol will be reducing the age limit to audition from 16 to 15. Really?! Because with some very few exceptions (Allison Iraheta, David Archuleta, for example), the younger contestants on the show are kind of boring and don’t really know their sound yet. I mean if this was X-Factor, then okay fine because the judges do actually have a hand in helping and mentoring the contestants. But this is Idol. We don’t need week in and week out to hear the judges say, “You should try this. This isn’t you. Be current!” And then the contestants be like, “Well I don’t know what you want from me! I’m following your advice! And I still can’t make you happy!” And that’s because they don’t know what they want or what kind of music they want to make. Idol seriously is a sinking ship.

And that is all for today’s pop culture roundup!

Random Music Post #2 – Idol Edition

In an effort to write more about music and not television (even though this is still technically television-related), I thought I would blog about American Idol. As millions of people know now, American Idol season 9 finished last week, with Lee DeWyze being crowned the winner.

On Friday, it was announced that both Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox had signed their respective recording contracts. Both of them signing was hardly a surprise, considering that for as long as Idol’s been around, the winner and the runner-up are guaranteed contracts with 19 Recordings Limited and a Sony Music label. The interesting part lies with which Sony Music label they will be attached to – DeWyze is now signed under RCA, while Bowersox is signed under Jive Records.

Based on the labels that they are signed to, I’d say Lee DeWyze has a better shot at “success” than Crystal Bowersox. Based on their track record of Idol alums signed to their label, RCA has a better track record over Jive. DeWyze is joining Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, David Cook, and Adam Lambert as part of RCA. Based on those artists listed, RCA’s done a pretty good job with Idol alums – Clarkson and Daughtry are arguably 2 of the best selling Idol alums, while Cook and Lambert have done very well for themselves for the short amount of time since they’ve left Idol. Not to say that RCA’s track record is completely flawless when it comes to Idol – Katharine McPhee, Diana DeGarmo, Bo Bice, Clay Aiken in his early post-Idol career, Justin Guarini (all runners-up funny enough) have found better success either with smaller labels or in other endeavors. But with the aforementioned 4 making a strong precedence, it shows that DeWyze does have a pretty good shot at proving haters wrong.

On the other hand, Bowersox is joining Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, Jordin Sparks, and David Archuleta as part of Jive. Granted, those 4 are the only alums to have been signed to Jive, but 0-for-4 in terms of breakout success doesn’t exactly make for a great track record. Sparks had a hit with ‘No Air’ and I guess a hit with last year’s ‘Battlefield’ but before Allen, she had the lowest first-week album sales of an Idol winner. Speaking of Allen, like I said, he now has the lowest first week album sales for an Idol winner, and it’s a shame because his album was solid and was very well put together for a debut (and under his circumstances of having to tour and whatnot in the 5-month turnaround from winning to releasing the album). I can’t help but point fingers at Jive for not doing a better job at promoting the album (or for letting RCA pimp the hell outta Lambert). Allison Iraheta, good album, but I have yet to hear any of her songs on the radio. Archuleta got his debut song, ‘Crush’ but that was about it. So Bowersox, despite being incredibly talented, sort of has the cards stacked against at her.

Let it be said that the type of record/music these contestants come out with has more than a little something to do with their sales and success as well. Also, everyone’s definition of success varies. Obviously, success cannot be marked purely on album sales but it is a strong factor. Their marketability figures somewhat into sales, especially with those who don’t watch Idol.

Without a doubt, label support is but one of many factors that go into whether a musician/artist does well, and that goes beyond just American Idol. Along with that, it is needless to say that the music industry and its consumers are tough to gauge these days. When radio plays the likes of Ke$ha, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus (and the various other Disney stars) countless times on end and people are taking it all in like these are their last options,  how can anyone expect there to be room for truly talented artists/musicians who may not be as out-there as Lady Gaga to break out and earn recognition?

Anyways, that’s my rant for the day, but I leave you now with video of Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson performing Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ (an example of what happens when great Idol alums come together and perform).

*And just for the sake of it, more awesomeness in the form of Carrie Underwood and David Cook performing together last year.