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May 23, 2006
American Idol Finale � The winner will not be 'Soulful'
Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee are the finalists in the current season of American Idol. Last year's show had a Carrie Underwood v. Bo Bice final, with Country Carrie prevailing over the long—haired rocker Bo.
Hicks and McPhee are white. That makes this year's finale, for the second year in row, hip—hop safe. Former winners of the program, who happen to be black, were seemingly categorized as 'black' artists by the producers of the show, based on the material that make up their respective debut CD's.
Preceding Underwood as winners on AI were Fantasia Barrino, Ruben Studdard, and, of course, Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson is still topping the charts with her string of pop hits. Underwood had a successful single, 'Jesus, Take the Wheel,' from her debut CD and is now a staple in country music gatherings. It is Barrino and Studdard who are in hip—hop purgatory.
Thanks to record executive extraordinaire, Clive Davis, these two were sent the way of Missy Elliot and R. Kelly; that is, to Hip—Hop back—alley. That has been a horrible disservice not only to Barrino and Studdard, but to the music—loving public at large.
Studdard was sent barreling down the low road of hip—hop/rap/hat—sideways/BET on Saturday afternoons, rather than the better path of his idol, Luther Vandross. Barrino, who made "Summertime" (written by the Gershwins of Tin Pan Alley) her signature song in the competition, was last seen seated in the front row of a recent AI show, but was never introduced or acknowledged. Summertime, apparently, has come and gone for the remarkable songstress. A movie is forthcoming about her life from Lifetime Television, but, will that translate into Clarkson—type sales for another 'R&B' offering this fall? Not if it contains the same kind of material from her first disc.
To what kind of world are Studdard and Barrino becoming prisoners? How about this story that was in the news in the last few weeks as reported by CNSNews on May 12th:
19 Entertainment and Freemantle Media, the co—producers of American Idol, control the creative process for the top contestants on the program. It is they that have contracted with Clive Davis to produce and record the CD's of the singers that America votes as its favorites.
Ruben Studdard's debut CD, Soulful, contained covers of pop classics like "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" (Bee Gees) and "Superstar" (The Carpenters), while it also included tracks that featured rap stars Fat Joe and Pretty Tony, called "What is Sexy" and "Can I Get Your Attention," respectively. The first single from Soulful was "Sorry 2004," which, to be honest, is a sorry attempt at 'soft rap' (somewhere between rap and pop).
The whole project was very confusing pleasing no one in particular. If American Idol generates millions of dollars in profits, it is not being spent on finding new original music for its musical talent.
When Fantasia's debut CD, Free Yourself, hit the shelves, the main talking point was a song called "Baby Mama." The song celebrates single motherhood. It too contains a strange mixture of songs ranging from "You Were Always on My Mind" (Willie Nelson), to the street—wise 'Ain't Gonna Beg.' One particularly annoying song is 'Truth Is,' which endlessly repeats the title. The truth is the CD, while ringing up sales based on a built—in fan base created the show, is not very good. Again, why not bring in songwriters who can appeal to the universal talents of Fantasia, who sings best with top—40, mainstream material?
The black contestant who advanced the furthest this season was Paris Bennett, who ended up in the top 5. Bennett is a dynamite singer, but, if she were to win it all, wouldn't she to be sent the way of Studdard and Barrino? That is to the R&B category at your local music store, which is a much smaller genre than the top—40 beat.
My appeal to Clive Davis is to give Studdard and Barrino material worthy of all the airwaves, not just those which poison the inner—city.
J. James Estrada 5 23 06