Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Idol Shocker: Songs That Don't Suck

I have not tried to hide the fact that I'm an American Idol fan. I think it has always made for fantastic television and once the competition starts, it's hard not to get addicted. Now, I'm also a music fan, and sometimes good music and American Idol don't neccessarily go together. Some contestants have gone on to release decent albums (Fantasia, Carrie Underwood) and only one, in my opinion, has had a legitimately good recording career (Kelly Clarkson). But every now and then, you'll hear a song from a former contestant that's surprisingly solid and repeat-worthy. After the first season only yielded one star, a song from an Idol runner-up comes pre-packaged with low expectations. It's expected for the winner to have at least one strong song, but whenever the runner-ups release something good, it's always a shock.

During season 3, Diana DeGarmo had a few nice moments, but the only thing that was memorable about her was that she was still in high school. The finale between her and Fantasia is probably the biggest mismatch an Idol finale has ever seen. Her album flopped big time and little has been heard from her in the pop world since. I may be writing her celebrity obituary a bit too soon, but if we never hear from her again and she joins that big Trivial Pursuit in the sky, she will have left us with one hell of a pop/rock jam. "Boy Like You" is your typical teenage-girl-pissed-off-at-a-boy song, but unlike some of her other contemporaries in the field at the time (Avril Lavigne, Katy Rose and sadly, Liz Phair, who I choose to believe hit her head and woke up with amnesia thinking she was 15 years younger), DeGarmo's voice is strong enough to drive the material without sounding strained or cloying. At first, it may seem like she lacks the conviction and the grit to carry such a pissy song, but it's refreshing to hear someone with actual vocal chops tackle material like this. The sound of the song itself is a mixture of New Wave synths with some good ol' 90's female angst with a guitar riff ripped straight from The Cars' "Just What I Needed". My goodness, who's fault was it not to make this a single?

Diana DeGarmo - "Boy Like You"

Another surprisingly good song comes from Season 5 contestant, Elliot Yamin. Now, Yamin's album did have some favorable reviews and went gold, but the big single, "Wait For You", does not hint at any of the greatness of "Movin' On." Actually, nothing on the album comes close to "Movin' On" and I'm also finding it hard to believe that a video wasn't made for such another obvious single. "Movin' On" is a smooth uptempo R&B song that is the perfect showcase for Yamin's soulful tenor. Yamin is without a doubt one of the best male crooners ever on American Idol and I think that modern R&B is a more natural field for him instead of the adult contemporary pop that took up most of his album. The sparkling keys on the song compelement the purity in Yamin's voice so well that you'll wish that you had an ex to diss, just so you can empathize with his joy.

Elliot Yamin - "Movin' On"

To buy Diana DeGarmo's Blue Skies from Amazon, click here

To buy Elliot Yamin's self-titled album from Amazon, click here

One more added bonus from the AI camp isn't even an official release but a performance during the finals. I became very much in awe of Blake Lewis' take on "You Keep Me Hangin' On" from last season and how experimental and truly shocking it was at the time. He gave the song a futuristic take fitting for the 21st century, but the judges did not dig it, which shows just how out of touch they are. True, few things in this world can come close to the original by The Supremes, but what Lewis did was reimagine the song as a slick disco-fied dance tune complete with synth-pop influences. To say that I was disheartened that this performance did not become a classic is an understatement, but on a show like Idol, the vocals have to steal the show, not the arrangement. The saddest part is that this version of the song will never be recorded in the studio with the stripped down approach that it deserves and is begging for.

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