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.

 

Pop Cultured Summer 2013 – July

Summer is usually a time reserved for sunshine, beaches, and vacations. For pop culture fans like me, it may mean the end of my regularly scheduled TV programming but the start of a batch of other summertime shows. It also means the air-conditioned movie theaters are filled with the latest blockbusters, and live music abounds at stadiums/arenas/amphitheaters everywhere. So as we continue on with what summer brings us, here’s what I’m looking forward to this month. (Also, Happy Canada Day!)

JULY

I can’t wait for what’s in store in July!! And funny thing is a lot of the things I’m looking forward to all happen within the same week. On July 16th, two of my favourite summer shows are back for their new seasons – Suits and Covert Affairs. Both shows are coming back from their respective game-changing finales that involved revelations and new relationships being made. July 14th marks the return of The Newsroom, the Aaron Sorkin drama that divided critics and audiences alike. Personally, I enjoyed the show last season and though there were some flaws, I found it nice to have some intelligent drama. We also get to enjoy the series premieres of two other shows – The Bridge, starring Diane Kruger and Demian Bachir as two police detectives working together to solve a series of murders plaguing the Texas/Mexico border; and Camp, which stars Rachel Griffiths as the head of a summer camp and the antics that abound (both premiere on July 10th).

Also on July 16th, Sara Bareilles releases her third album, The Blessed Unrest, while Matt Nathanson releases his latest, Last of the Great Pretenders. One of my favourite artists coming out of The Voice is season 2’s Tony Lucca, who having been signed to his coach Adam Levine’s 222 Records is finally releasing an EP (I know ‘finally’ gives off the sense that it’s been a really long time, though in reality it’s only been a year since season 2 aired – not going to lie I’m already starting to feel a little bit of Voice fatigue from this 2 seasons a year thing). On the concert front, I know I’ve mentioned it before but it needs to be said again – the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, Legends of the Summer tour kicks off in Toronto on July 17th!!! I changed/modified my travel plans for this concert, because simply put, it’s going to be AWESOME!

On the movie side of things, there aren’t a lot of “big movies” that I’m excited about. There’s Despicable Me 2 (I’ll be honest, I can’t say Despicable Me without saying “IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!”); R.I.P.D, which stars Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as two cops protecting the living from the dead, seems interesting; and surprisingly, I’m only a little bit excited for The Wolverine, the latest movie starring Hugh Jackman’s X-Men character. The movies that I’m really interested in this month are the smaller movies. The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age story brought to us by the Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants, Nat Faxon (aka Ben Fox of the late FOX TV series, Ben and Kate) and Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton of Community). I heard great things about Fruitvale Station, after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival; it’s the true story of Oscar Grant, and follows his last day before he was tragically shot at the Fruitvale subway stop in the Bay Area. The other movie I’m interested in is The To Do List, which is simply due to the cast involved – Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Donald Glover, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Connie Britton, and Clark Gregg.

The pinnacle of July, and what ultimately got affected by JT & Jay-Z announcing their show on July 17th, is my first-time at San Diego Comic-Con! As a pop culture fan, I have spent so many years reading all the news coming out of SDCC, whether it be movie announcements or just some cool stuff having to do with my favourite TV shows, and wishing I was there taking it all in. Well this year, it’s happening! I will be getting my nerd on (no cosplay, I’m not THAT much of a nerd), hopefully getting to see some of my favourite actors/actresses, and experiencing all the craziness that is SDCC. Will I camp out for the infamous Hall H or Ballroom 20? TBD. News has been slowly trickling out as to what shows and movies will be having panels at the Con, prior to the official schedule release on July 4th, but there are some confirmations that have got me excited: new shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (yeah, me and everybody else is excited for this), Sleepy Hollow, and Almost Human; How I Met Your Mother (random, I know, but I still love this show damn it!), Grimm, Arrow and Nikita. The announcement of the Nikita panel is obviously bittersweet – I’m so excited to see pretty much the entire cast (Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Sonya, was the only one not listed in the press release) but it’s a reminder that it’s for the final season. [On another note, how sad is it going to be that I would have to fly out to San Diego to meet the cast, who film the show in Toronto?!] And as part of the SDCC celebrations, I’m so excited for NERDHQ, the nerd gathering run by Zac Levi and The Nerd Machine! Because it is my first time at SDCC, my objective is obviously to have lots of fun and trying to do everything I REALLY want to do/see, but I will try to make note of my experiences and blog about it here.

The Voice: A Case of Contestants With Connections

One of the best things about The Voice is that it is open to anybody, and in particular, it gives formerly indie artists an opportunity to achieve greater success. In two seasons, we’ve had numerous artists who’ve already had varying forms of success, and are looking to this show as a second (or third, fourth, etc.) chance. Javier Colon, last season’s winner, had a record contract previously, but didn’t really go anywhere. Dia Frampton, last season’s runner-up, was known from Meg & Dia, her band with her sister. Most people knew Frenchie Davis from American Idol and she was also on Broadway for some time. This season, we’ve got Juliet Simms from Automatic Loveletter, Tony Vincent comes from Broadway, Jordis Unga previously competed on Rock Star INXS, Jamar Rogers previously competed on American Idol, and Tony Lucca who has released many albums independently but is widely known right now as a former Mouseketeer.

At the same time though, at what point does them having a career (or some notoriety) prior to being a contestant hinder their chances here? Or a better question is, does it affect them at all as a contestant on this show, at this time? I bring this up because of what happened on last night’s show with Christina Aguilera and Tony Lucca. At this point, everyone knows that Christina and Tony were both Mouseketeers, and we all know that those Mouseketeers were clearly a talented bunch, as evidenced by all the stars who are well-known in the industry now. Christina made a mention of how Justin Timberlake was tweeting his support for Tony, and how she wanted the show to be strictly about the contestants’ singing and not celebrity sway.

Christina makes a good point – it should be about the contestants and how well they sing – but at the same time, celebrity sway/endorsements/support/etc. can’t be avoided. It’s a tricky situation for Tony to be in, because it just so happens that his connections are made more aware. For Tony, he’s been a working musicians all these years, he’s toured with Sara Bareilles and obviously still friends with Justin and Matt Morris from MMC, and it was just inevitable that these artists would support him in his venture. Plus the added awkwardness that Christina didn’t initially recognize Tony and he’s on Adam’s team, and I feel a sense of her giving Tony a harder time because she knows him. We’ve also been told on numerous occasions that Jermaine Paul used to be one of Alicia Keys’ backup singers and they also got her calling him to give him support. So how different is all of this to any other celebrity calling favourites? We live in a Facebook/Twitter-filled world and it would seem that other musicians/actors/celebrities watch television too; they watch The Voice, American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and they voice their opinion on who their favourites are to their followers and who they think should continue on in the competition. How is that any different from Justin tweeting his support for his friend Tony?

We can’t count out the fact that viewers of the show, do have their own minds and are capable of making a decision without any celebrity sway. We know what we heard and saw on our TV screens. And regardless of TV show, some contestants may already come in with a decent fanbase or develop a good fanbase while on the show and a lot of fans will vote for their favourites no matter what. Look at DWTS: the pros at this point are sometimes more famous than their “star” partners, so you can’t deny that some people vote for their favourite pro dancer moreso than voting for the best dance. Point is, bias is inevitable. It’s the name of the game.

So yes, Christina had a point in saying that votes should be based on the singing and not celebrity connections. But where reality competition TV is concerned, when voting among the masses is required, there may be rules in place as to how to vote and the number of votes, but that’s about it.

The Voice Season 2: A Look At the Coaches’ Teams

The Voice has without a doubt replaced American Idol as my singing competition of choice. Heck, when my own mom (who loves watching Idol) agrees that Voice is so much more entertaining, you’ve got something. Let’s be real, we totally love it for the coaches, just as much as listening to the contestants. Anyone who watches the show has to admit that it’s totally fun watching Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and Christina Aguilera bicker at one another and fighting to get picked by the contestant. But enough about the coaches, let’s talk about the contestants.

Now the battle rounds have come and gone, with some very hard decisions (and let’s be real, some questionable ones) made by the coaches. We are now left with 6 members on each of the coaches’ teams. As I did last season, I figured I’d break down each team, and see which coach actually has the strongest team.

TEAM ADAM

  • Tony Lucca
  • Pip
  • Kim Yarborough
  • Mathai
  • Karla Davis
  • Katrina Parker

This is a new season, and yet Adam still has the strongest team, in my opinion. Tony’s a former Mouseketeer with Christina, even though she didn’t recognize him. He’s one of my favourites. I remember hearing about him when he opened up for Sara Bareilles (who is also friends with Adam!), not to mention watching the E! True Hollywood Story on the Mickey Mouse Club. Truth be told, I never got around to listening to the stuff he’s released previously, but I definitely have motivation now to check it out.
Pip did really well covering “House of the Rising Sun” and considering he’s only 19? He’s got a great future ahead of him.
Kim is the definition of a diva voice, not to mention, she proves that it is never too late to go for your dreams.
While I enjoyed Mathai’s version of “Rumour Has It” during the blind auditions, after her battle round performance, I kind of realized that her voice was uniquely similar to a couple other singers on the show.
Karla and Katrina, though I didn’t make much of their initial auditions, impressed in their battle rounds.

I’ll also have to admit, that even though the general thought is to never get too attached to contestants early in the process, there were a lot of artists whom I really liked during the blind auditions, who lost in the battle rounds. I was kind of upset with Adam for pairing up Tony with Chris Cauley because I expected both to make it to the live shows (and I absolutely loved Chris’ version of “Grenade”). Angel Taylor was a name I was familiar with, but like Tony, never got around to listening to her material. Orlando Napier showed some real soul singing “Waiting On the World to Change”. I guess it’s not a bad thing to have such a stacked team going into battle rounds, but at the same time, we lost some great talent there.

TEAM BLAKE

  • Jordis Unga
  • Jermaine Paul
  • RaeLynn
  • Erin Willett
  • Naia Kete
  • Charlotte Sometimes

Not to be outdone by Adam, Blake’s got a pretty solid team himself. First of all, I totally remember Jordis from Rock Star INXS. I was quite the fan of hers on that show and still listen to her version of “The Man Who Sold the World”. Now after getting over the shock that Adam didn’t push his button for her, I’m actually glad that she ended up on Blake’s team. She’s got better chances at staying longer by being on Team Blake.
Jermaine was once Alicia Keys’ backup singer and now he’s trying to go at it on his own. He’s got a good sound to him, though I’m not entirely sure I liked his performance of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.” However, he showed true professionalism and performance with “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car.”
For her age, I thought RaeLynn did a decent job in her blind audition. But I thought for sure that Adley Stump was going to beat her in the battle. Adley’s got natural talent and sang ‘Free Fallin’ with more clarity I thought. I certainly understood Blake’s decision to pick RaeLynn; she’s someone who could use mentorship and has room for growth.
Erin making it through over Gwen Sebastian in the battle round was a tough call for Blake, but it turns out it was a win for everybody, since Gwen is now on tour as a backup singer for Blake now.
Naia’s got a really easy going sound, not all that different from Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat.
Charlotte’s another name I had heard before when she had done the blind audition. I didn’t love her performance of “Apologize”, but then with “Pumped Up Kicks” for her battle round (which is a song I don’t particularly like in the first place), I kind of felt indifferent. I give her credit for having a unique tone to her voice, but it seems as though each coach has one artist with this apparently not-so-unique tone.

TEAM CEE LO

  • Jamar Rogers
  • James Massone
  • Erin Martin
  • Tony Vincent
  • Juliet Simms
  • Chessa

Same as it was last season, Cee-Lo’s got a rather eclectic mix of artists on his team. I remember Jamar from Idol a few years back, auditioning with his best friend (and eventual third place finisher, even though I wasn’t a fan, Danny Gokey). Glad to see him audition for The Voice and definitely enjoyed his performance of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes during the blind auditions. He also killed it with his performance of “I Want to Know What Love Is” in the battle round, even though it meant that we lost Jaime Lono. Not so sure how I feel about James; I don’t think he’ll go all the way, because he still has to develop his sound more.
Erin is Mind-boggling inclusion #1. I really don’t get why she got chosen in the blind auditions in the first place, let alone making it through to the live shows. She’s got a very limited range and to be honest, her voice is kind of annoying (when speaking and singing).
Without a doubt, Tony is one of the most talented guys on the show. I mean, the guy’s coming from a dynamic Broadway background. It hurt to see Justin Hopkins go after their battle round pairing, but I really am looking forward to what Tony will bring to his performances.
Juliet’s got a lot of grit and edge to her. Her personality’s not coming off all that well on the show, but in a show called The Voice, does it really matter? (Just a little. It’s still reality TV after all.)
Chessa, I’m afraid, is Mind-boggling inclusion #2. I don’t get her. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but just something about her voice just doesn’t connect with me. I definitely thought Cee-Lo was going to pick Angie over Chessa in their battle round because Angie had much more clarity in her singing. Alas, that’s not how it went down.

TEAM CHRISTINA

  • Moses Stone
  • Jesse Campbell
  • Lindsey Pavao
  • Sera Hill
  • Chris Mann
  • Ashley De La Rosa

Christina changed it up the most between this season and last with her team. While last season her team consisted of big-voiced singers/belters, her team this season is quite varied. She’s got Moses, the show’s first ever MC. He certainly showed that he does also have the ability to sing and not just rap in his battle round.
If you weren’t already impressed with Jesse’s blind audition, singing “A Song For You”, which had all 4 coaches turn around, then his battle round with Anthony Evans singing “If I Ain’t Got You” should’ve done it. That was definitely a tough call for Christina.
Lindsey’s another unique voice in the competition and really showed creativity performing Trey Songz’ “Say Aah” for her audition.
Sera impressed Christina so much in her audition, that Christina even went up to sing with her! It was a pretty good performance, but now I’m waiting to see what else she brings.
Chris is certainly one of the reasons why The Voice is so different from other talent shows. He’s an opera guy. Where else (except maybe America’s Got Talent) would you find a guy like him competing? I’m not sure how receptive audiences will be to his style, but I’m looking forward to watching it.
I’d say Ashley’s a dark horse. I mean we don’t actually know much about her, except that she’s a young talent. She did a pretty good job of singing “Shark in the Water” by V.V Brown (credit for a different song choice) for her audition, while her battle round duet of “No Air” faced some pitch issues (though her recorded version is much better). She might get shown up by her more polished teammates, but here’s hoping that Christina really uses the opportunity to help Ashley grow as an artist and develop her sound.

So there’s that, a rundown of the 24 artists who made it to the live show. As I understand, the live shows will alternate for 4 weeks, with Adam and Blake’s teams going first this week, then Christina and Cee-Lo’s teams next week, and same thing for another 2 weeks. After that, we’ll be left with a total of 8 artists (2 from each team), then it’ll be the finals. As it was last season, still no theme weeks like Idol (YAY!!!). New to this season is the live results show on Tuesdays, so we’re not left with artists preparing for a song that they won’t get to perform (that was a little awkward).

Now, I still stand by my thinking that Adam’s got the best team, but Blake is a very strong second (down to a Team Adam vs Team Blake again for the finals?) Christina’s definitely got a diverse team this season. And Cee-Lo…well, it’s Cee-Lo, you just never know what you’re gonna get with that guy. For fun (as I did last year) I’ll make a guess as to who the final artist from each team will be (however biased they may be): Tony Lucca, Jordis Unga, Jamar Rogers, and Jesse Campbell.

The Voice airing on NBC Mondays @ 8:00 P.M, with results show Tuesdays @ 9:00 P.M.