On the future of Adam Lambert.

June 4, 2009

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It’s been a long time since I followed the British music press, but when I did, I seem to recall a crazy level of hyperbole. Bands were routinely called “the best band in the UK” or “the best band since [some legendary musical act]” before anyone had ever heard their first album, based on a couple of hot shows or maybe an early single.

Many of those bands ended up amounting to absolutely nothing, but by that time the notoriously fickle press was already several best-bands-in-the-UK down the road.

I’ve never seen anything comparable here in the States, but the coverage of Adam Lambert, this year’s American Idol runner-up, is giving me flashbacks of the days when I used to peruse NME at the bookstore after my college classes were out. Before the contest was even over, Lambert had appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly solo. The judges, music journalists, the larger media, and bloggers routinely tossed around words like “superstar.”

Superstar? Adam Lambert hasn’t put out anything other than Idol iTunes tie-ins and a single of that Kara DioGuardi song that everyone hated.

Despite this, I am on board with the hype, although more cautiously than many. I used the word “superstar” myself, but hedgingly, asking, “Are we witnessing the birth of a superstar?” I wrote that Adam was a major talent, but, of course, major talents are not always successful.

As a follower of American Idol since the beginning, I’m inclined towards caution. I’ve seen a number of Idol winners or runners-up who seemed to have promising careers ahead of them falter either right out of the gate or when it was time for a follow-up album after the hype of the competition had died down and we, like the British music press, had moved on to a new set of contestants.

It would be a travesty if this happened to someone as talented as Adam Lambert who already commands world attention. To prevent it, Adam should take a long hard look at the rise and fall of Bo Bice.

Bo Bice had a ballsy Southern-rock sound that was popular enough to get him to number two during the show’s fourth season, exactly where Adam finished. Like Adam’s sound, Bo’s was new to the show. Although Bo wasn’t as consistent as Adam, his performances could also be electrifying (most notably here).

But when it came time to make an album, according to All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Earlewine:

They threw everything that worked for Bo on the show out the window — the Southern rock, the blues, the classicism — and shoehorned him into a bland alt-rock setting somewhere between Nickelback and Bon Jovi. Clearly, the idea behind this is that what appeals to the show’s audience won’t appeal to the record-buying public, particularly to teens, but instead of building on the audience Bo had on the show, The Real Thing alienates them.

This approach, or something similar, would kill Adam’s career just as surely as it killed Bo’s. Not that Lambert wouldn’t be able to make a comfortable living between modestly-selling albums and a stage career, but his opportunity to become a superstar–a Mick Jagger, a Steven Tyler, a Freddy Mercury–would be squandered, likely for good.

In order to not get his square peg shoved into one of the music industry’s small set of round holes, Adam needs to take control of his career. He needs to insist on picking his collaborators, and he needs to fight for quality material. He needs to refuse to sing songs that do not meet a high standard. He needs to not let the suits, with their preconceived and narrow notions of what will and will not be successful, push him around.

Can he do it? I think he can. Unlike many prior contestants, Adam has been working in the entertainment industry, if only its fringes, for years, so he likely knows the ropes better than most and hence is less likely to get steamrolled.

I also think the Record People are less likely to steamroll him. When Bo Bice got Bo Biced, the show was still in its early phases and The Powers That Be were focused on producing pop stars. The success of Carrie Underwood demonstrated the narrow-mindedness of this approach and since then we’ve had both country and rock Idol success stories. And I get the impression that the Record People think Adam Lambert’s sound will be plenty commercial as it is.

But I still don’t trust them, and neither should Adam. In order to realize his potential, he needs to take control. I pray that he does.

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American Idol, 2009 – Episode 22 (3/18/09)

March 18, 2009

Idol LogoAnd we’re back for this week’s results show. This will likely be it until next Wednesday, because President Obama has a prime-time press conference scheduled for Tuesday. Mr. President, that is not the change we’ve been waiting for!

Yesterday’s show had a lot of stinky moments, and they weren’t all from Paula. For one, the episode cemented my dislike of Megan “Lesbian Seagull” Joy. (If you’re wondering why I call her “Lesbian Seagull” it’s because of her infamous “Caw! Caw!” at the end of “Rockin’ Robin” last week. The short video clip below will explain.)

Who Should Be in the Bottom Three

  1. Megan “Lesbian Seagull” Joy. I never thought anyone could make me miss Katharine McPhee, but darned if Megan hasn’t done just that. Between last week’s atrocious “Rockin’ Robin” and this week’s hammy desecration of “Walking After Midnight,” she has firmly placed herself at the bottom of my list. She needs to go home tonight. She won’t, though.
  2. Michael Sarver. The only time he’s interesting is when he’s bad. When he’s singing OK, I reach for the No-Doz.
  3. Scott MacIntyre. As Randy might say, “Dude, singing’s just not your thing.” Neither is taste, as he routinely picks the cheesiest material imaginable. He should get a job as a studio musician and leave this so-called singing competition.

Who Will Be in the Bottom Three

  1. Michael Sarver. The producers gave him the death slot, and  he demonstrated that he deserved it by mugging it up for the audience in a Constantine-like fashion, except Constantine would never have sang that poorly. The road ends here.
  2. Scott MacIntyre. Demographically, he’s competing with Kris Allen and Matt Giraud, both of whom are better looking, which is the key to that demographic. In addition, both sing much better. One of the three will be eliminated soon, and my money’s on Scott. I think he escapes tonight, though.
  3. Allison Iraheta. She’s in a precarious spot because she didn’t pick her song well and she had a lousy slot (number two). I think she lives to see another day, and I hope she has a resurgence next week.

Live blogging, and the attendant spoilers, are below the fold once the show starts at 8:00 Central.

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American Idol, 2009 – Episode 21 (3/17/09)

March 17, 2009

Idol LogoWell, the big news today is that someone is claiming that American Idol is rigged. I’m not sure this is really news–anyone with eyes can see how they stack the deck for their favorite contestants, and their favorite contestants are nearly always not mine. (In the seven previous seasons, my personal fave has only won twice (Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia Barrino), and then they went and destroyed Fantasia’s career by saddling her with lousy material so I guess it didn’t matter that she won.)

So I say fight, not by voting for the worst, but by voting for the best, who, at the moment, happens to be Allison Iraheta. Allison isn’t one of the Chosen Ones. She’s been given very little screen time, she’s attractive but not a knockout, and she doesn’t have a sob story. She has advanced as far as she has through <gasp> her ability to sing well.  Sort of strange that should happen in a singing competition, I know, but miracle of miracles, it has.

So, if Allison has another good night, I encourage you to vote for her and stick it to the Man.

Live blog, and the spoilers live blogging entails, below the fold once the show starts at 7:00 central.

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Puttin’ the “try” Back in Country

August 5, 2008

I guess I should start by saying that its my job to know about country music. I am the morning show DJ for a country station in north Louisiana. Keeping that in mind I pose this query: What do Jessica Simpson, Darius Rucker, Jewel, and Kid Rock have in common? They are all enjoying varied degrees of success on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart.

I don’t particularly enjoy the music I play at work. Over the years however, I have learned to like some of the slick, over-modulated pap more than the rest. The great danger in my profession is that occasionally I will realize that I am singing softly to myself the words of some thoroughly embarassing modern “country” song. Carrie Underwood’s “All American Girl” is especially infectious. Not to mention the vocal stylings of barely legal Nashville songstress Taylor Swift. Basically, after ten years of toiling away in the country format I have come to say things like, “That new Keith Urban single is great!” Now hold on, I don’t mean that I’m gonna be buying his latest album. In fact I get it for free and still won’t listen to it. (I feel kind of bad about saying that. I’ve met the man and he gave me my only bonafide, Australian “Good-on-ya!”) What I mean by “great” is that it fits a hole in our format that I’ve been looking to fill. You know, the cliche of the three minute, positive, not too country, up-tempo love song. (Thanks to Larry Cordle for that line.)

That being said, enough is enough! Jessica Simpson? Why? “Well she’s from Texas, why not?”, some would say. By that logic, we should play Pantera. Simpson’s country debut has come to us in the form of the unholy, ear-raping “Come on Over”. She sings “Leave the dishes in the sink/Leave the aahhs-cubes in your drink/Just Come on Over”. I feel dirty after introducing this song. Since when does she have a thick Texas drawl? And what moron told her to pick a song with the title “Come on Over” for her first single? That was the title to Shania Twain’s late nineties album that sold a bazillion copies. It had twelve oft-played radio singles on it for pete’s sake! That’s about the same as if Hoobastank decided to relase a single called “Kill Em’ All” that somehow wasn’t about the Metallica album of the same name.

Jessica is the worst offender of the four pop interlopers but only barely. There is a special place in hell for Kid Rock now that he has released “All Summer Long”. Hot damn thats bad! The song starts by ripping off Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and ends by ripping off “Sweet Home Alabama.” Yes thats exactly what the world needed: a reworking of “Sweet Home Alabama”. Christ. I’m getting worked up just thinking about this abomination which, by the way, the listeners just love.

Jewel sucks too. The only good thing she ever did (besides wearing a tight tee-shirt) was covering the Steve Poltz song “You Were Meant For Me”. And she didn’t even do that right. Its “I break the yolks with my goddamn fork/I can’t believe you’re taking me to court”, not whatever the hell she yodels in her mega-hit version.

That brings us to Hootie. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” is his country debut and compared to the other singles in this post, it’s phenomenal. Besides, its fun to say “Hootie”. Still he would have been better off releasing, as a single, the BK jingle he did.

To sum up, pop country sucks but should be left to the pros; people like Craig Morgan who at least seem authentic when they sing songs with titles like “International Harvester”. I’m just glad that we seem to be done with the jingoistic, willfully ignorant crap like “Have You Forgotten” from noted sadist Darryl Worley which excoriates pointy headed liberals for not realizing that the war in Iraq is somehow about 9-11. I often fantasize about putting Toby Keith, Charlie Daniels, and Darryl Worley into a rocket and shooting it into the blazing heart of the sun. Steve Earle could have the honor of pressing the button.

I would like to say, to those who ask how I can put up with my job: It’s damn easy. I talk for a living. It beats the hell out of real work. Also, once a week I host an alt-country show where I can play whatever I want. It’s Monday night from six to eight. Check it out here.