Sunday, May 30, 2010

Glee vs. American Idol

I was startled last week to glance at the Top 10 singles on iTunes and see that five of the ten songs were either American Idol finalists or Glee songs. Therein was hatched my idea to listen, ponder and compare a few songs from those two shows. The premise of both shows is that they do covers and add their own touch to them. To some extent the American Idol contestants are at an immediate disadvantage because they need to take a song that was likely done well the first time and make it their own- but not so much that they literally change the song. Doing covers of U2, Paul McCartney and Frank Sinatra is a tough job and the last thing they probably want is for people to be wishing they were listening to the real version. Glee, on the other hand, has more liberty to mix things up a bit and some of the songs they’ve done on the show are pretty fun, especially if there is a good association to the choreography and scene from the show.

We are a Glee family and I’ve watched enough American Idol this season to keep up, even if I don’t want to commit to hours a week of watching it (we can get through the results show in about 10 minutes). I’m a little surprised that Lee won the whole thing- I think he’s good but not “special” enough that I thought people would vote for him more than anyone else. He’s a bit of a chameleon and adapted to whatever song he chose, not generally making it much of a standout, in my opinion. It will be interesting to hear what he does with his own stuff. In the paper this morning, I read a quick interview with him and he named Dave Matthews as someone he tries to emulate, which isn’t much of a surprise, but I was surprised to learn that his favorite artist is Sufjan Stevens, a bit of an obscure indie singer, which is encouraging. Maybe when Lee has the freedom to do his own thing he’ll stand out a bit more.

Crystal, however, has a pretty distinct style and looked really uncomfortable when she had to break out of her comfort zone on the show. Hopefully she’ll also have the liberty to customize her sound a bit, even though it might not have the same broad audience commercial appeal that someone like Lee probably will. She is definitely talented! I also bought one Michael Lynche song because I really liked him on American Idol and I think he’ll go on to some success if he can channel his sound properly (which I don’t think he did in the song I chose- my bad).

Now, Glee… The actors on this show generally have some pretty impressive credentials, so it’s not totally surprising that they can turn out some good songs. If you watch the show, you not only can picture what they were doing while singing a given song but also the reason they were singing that particular song, which is kind of cool. Isn’t there a song for every mood or situation? Based on Glee there sure is. It’s interesting that a byproduct of the show is a bunch of songs that end up being popular. How could you not love an episode where the glee club’s assignment was to take a “bad” song and make it modern and relevant (take note, American Idol- great theme)! Who would have thought Total Eclipse of the Heart and Safety Dance would end up being popular again?

Here are a handful of songs I’ve chosen based partly on iTunes popularity and partly on personal choice. Hopefully it’s a good enough mix for me to report my very scientific results.

American Idol
· Beautiful Day (U2) – Lee DeWyze – Nothing special about this version, definitely better sung by U2.
· Hallelujah (various) – Lee DeWyze – I read criticism for choosing this song because Simon Cowell apparently owns the rights to it, but it’s a really pretty song. Lee did okay with it- still don’t know if it’s worth listening to his version over another (we got hooked on it in our house from the original Shrek soundtrack).
· Falling Slowly (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) – Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox – I fell in love with this song when it was sung at the Oscars a year or so back- it is a really pretty song, slow and quiet. In my opinion Lee and Crystal jazzed it up a little too much and took away from why it was such a great song to begin with.
· Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney) – Crystal Bowersox – It would be intimidating to sing a song originally done by one of the Beatles, but in this case I think it’s easier not to draw comparisons than it would have been if a male had sung it. She stayed pretty true to the original version and sounded good.
· Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin) – Crystal Bowersox – Now this is a version I like better than the original. To me, Crystal’s voice softens the song a little from the brassy original version (I know that was Janis’ style, I just don’t love it). Crystal rocks it toward the end and sounds great!
· The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra) – Michael Lynche – I do love Michael and if I could sit down and have a chat with him about his future, I would steer him more toward John Legend or Al Green than Frank (although that was the challenge that week, so not really his fault, I guess). This particular song is great, and he put kind of a big band sound to it, which unfortunately resulted in kind of a lounge vibe. This didn’t work for me, but I am looking forward to what we hear from him when it’s his own work.

· Poker Face (Lady Gaga) – Until the chorus, it’s hard to even recognize this song no matter how many times you’ve heard the original because it’s quite a bit slower and accompanied only by piano. When I heard this song on the show I didn’t really like, but it’s definitely growing on me.
· Gives You Hell (All American Rejects) – This version is sung by a female, which immediately makes it different from the original, and it’s sung with a lot of feeling (kind of an angry song anyway, not that you can tell from the title), which is cool. I like it!
· Beautiful (Christina Aguilera) – On the show this song was sung by a Jennifer Hudson type girl and I wish she had belted it out a bit more, but it was pretty controlled, even though it was pleasant enough. She got into it a little at the end, but I think it could have been a lot more.

And the winner is: Glee! My reasons: Glee isn’t afraid to REALLY change up the songs, which gives the songs a completely new sound, and they match the songs to a particular situation, making them more heartfelt. I am, however, looking forward to some new songs by the AI crew. Picks from this group:

· Me and Bobby McGee – Crystal Bowersox
· Poker Face – Glee Cast
· Gives You Hell – Glee Cast

Okay, I will use this post as an opportunity to expose people to Sufjan Stevens. A couple of his songs were featured in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. Since he doesn’t seem to do actual videos, use this as more of a way to become acquainted with his work, not necessarily to be entertained by the video. This song is called Chicago and is from his Album Illinoise (yes, Illinoise). If Lee uses Sufjan as his model he’ll be in good shape!

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