Music Monday: Reality TV Alums

There was a time I used to love American Idol, before everything about it started to annoy me. These days, The Voice is my singing competition of choice, but even I have to admit that them doing two seasons year is quickly burning me out. But you know what? At the end of the day, you can’t deny some of the talent that comes out of these TV singing competitions. Just two weeks ago, American Idol season 8 winner Kris Allen released his third album, Horizons, and it got me thinking about all the other alums who came out of Idol or Voice, whose career I still follow and music I still listen to.

  1. Kelly Clarkson, Sober – Too obvious to put Kelly in this list? Who cares? Let’s be real, it all started when Kelly won that first season of Idol and moved on to international success. It would be easy to put one of her massively successful singles, but instead, I’m going with my favourite Kelly song of all time.
  2. Kris Allen, In Time – As previously mentioned, the winner of American Idol season 8 just released a new album and “In Time” is one of my favourites off of it. People may have wanted to Adam Lambert to win that season, but I was a fan of Kris’ from the get-go and have absolutely loved everything he’s done since the show.
  3. Tessanne Chin, Count on My Love – I’ve loved The Voice from the beginning, but Tessanne’s album (which got released in June) is the first Voice winner’s album I’ve actually bought. She’s an amazing and unique talent, and the album does feel like its an extension of the person you met on the show.
  4. Chris Cauley, She Can’t Take My Love – Chris appeared on the second season of The Voice and immediately impressed me with his rendition of “Grenade.” Though his time on the show was short-lived, I was so impressed by his voice that I continued to follow his music. So glad I did and helped fund (through Kickstarter of course) his EP My Turn which was released last year.
  5. Dia Frampton, Walk Away – She may have been known as one half of the sister duo Meg & Dia prior to being on The Voice, but Dia made a name for herself and took it to second place in the first season. Her album Red was one of my favourites in 2011, with its eclectic mix that still managed to personify Dia as an artist.
  6. Will Champlin, Eye of the Pyramid – Will came in third place in season 5 of The Voice, and that was after being stolen twice during the run of the show! His album Borrowing Trouble was released in June and like Tessanne’s album, it’s what you would have expected from him if you were a fan of his during the show.
  7. Jordis Unga, Hold on Me – I first remember Jordis from when she competed on a show called Rock Star: INXS and one of my favourite songs she did on that show was “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie – that was 2005. Flash forward to 2012, where Jordis re-appears on my radar, appearing on season 2 of The Voice. Like Chris Cauley, I backed her Kickstarter, and “Hold on Me” is one of the songs that is featured on her album A Letter from Home.
  8. David Cook, Life on the Moon – I think it’s safe to say that David kind of ruined how I watch American Idol, in the BEST way possible. That is to say, season 7 of Idol was a game changer and that’s because David regularly remade the songs he performed on the show so they didn’t sound exactly like the original. I mean, who can forget his rendition of “Always Be My Baby“? Classic. Since then, he’s released two full albums and I actually wanted to include his song “Laying Me Low” which is a little bit more recent, but because Spotify doesn’t have it, I picked my favourite song from his first album.
  9. Tony Lucca, All My Friends – Tony had a pretty decent career/following before going on The Voice. I wish I could say I’ve followed his career for a long time but The Voice really was my true introduction to his music (I only knew of him previously as a former Mickey Mouse Club member). He released an EP under Adam Levine’s 222 Records label, but has now gone back to his indie roots and has released another EP Drawing Board on his own.
  10. Melinda Doolittle, You’re the Reason (U.R.Y) – One of the best talents to come out of Idol and she needs to get more recognition. Melinda is simply amazing and this song, from the album of the same name, features her flawless vocals over a modern R&B sound that still has a little old school feel to it. So in other words, it’s awesome.
  11. Ben Hazlewood, Twice – Ben surprised me on the first season of The Voice Australia and it continued post-show. I was incredibly impressed by his EP Loveless which turned out to be a very solid collection of pop songs.
  12. Diana Rouvas, If We Never Said Hello – I feel like it’s a pattern with me, following the careers of more non-winners than actual show winners, but that’s because there’s just so many talented singers who deserve recognition. Diana is another alum from the first season of The Voice Australia, who has such a soulful yet cool voice. I’ve got one of her original songs here, but may I suggest you check out her rendition of Beyonce’s “Love on Top”? Just as good, if not better than the original (yeah, I said it.)
  13. Carrie Underwood, Undo It – I wasn’t a huge fan of Carrie’s, thought she was a great singer on Idol and she deserved to win, I just wasn’t that big on country music. I slowly became a fan after the release of “Before He Cheats” and by the time she released her third album Play On, which features “Undo It” I was a convert. I still can’t do the REALLY COUNTRY songs, but give me a country song with a rock edge and we’re good.

 

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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.

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.