Though this season of "American Idol" isn't the most exciting, the celebrity coaches - led by Diana Ross - have been adding a certain zest to this otherwise bland cast. Having said that (and now that Sanjaya is gone), the balance of the finalist ballot is beginning to look like a "serious" competition. Some of them are lacking in the way of personality, but clearly there are some talented kids in there. Melinda Doolittle is still turning the kids while LaKisha Jones holds her ground. Meanwhile, Jordin Sparks may be the last "sistah" standing a la the season that Kimberly Locke rose to the top three (just under the radar). But Blake Lewis (though in the bottom three with other favorite LaKisha last week) seems poised to take it - demographically speaking. Plus, he offers something fresh and new that we've not seen elevate to the top in this franchise.
Meanwhile, beyond "American Idol", there are a couple of shout outs I want to make for those who are already established in the industry or aiming to establish themselves outside of the "American Idol" mix:
Last week, after I gave a shout out to Amy Winehouse and her new CD "Back to Black" (on Universal Republic Records), I got a call from Virgin (EMI/Capitol), asking if I liked their blue-eyed soulstress Joss Stone. Though they had sent me a "Valentine's basket", it didn't include the full CD. A day later, the new CD "Introducing Joss Stone" was in my mailbox... and has been on my rotation ever since. Raphael Saadiq produced the project (with Joss Stone credit for Executive Producer). Joss (and Amy) stand on the shoulders of Teena Marie, George Michael, and a host of other white singers who have us asking "Is she white?". She exudes so much soul, sass, and attitude in her vocals. Coupled with Saadiq's contemporary/vintage spin on her voice, she's got a release here that will let us know a bit more about what she's got to offer. (www.jossstone.com/)
Meanwhile, my Anthony brought another artist to my attention via the domain of MY SPACE. Many artists (unsigned, independent, and between projects while in the lab) share their new music on their respective sites. One on which he stumbled and shared with me: MATEO (http://www.myspace.com/mateosongs). As comparisons go, his vocals weave in and out of R&B singers we know and love - like Musiq Soulchild, Eric Benet, and Craig David. But MATEO - via his EP "HUMAN" - is all his own. Born into a family of musicians in Cincinnati, Ohio, Mateo was raised by a single mother where his early musical gifts were cultivated and developed. His site shows that he's a Morehouse brother of mine (younger though). And after he graduated college, he moved to New York City where he worked as a corporate consultant, while also performing at various venues around the city on the side - a trajectory many of us who are singers/artists have taken. (I used to host an event for that demographic here in the city. It was called "Frustrated Artists in Corporate America"). Frustrated no more, Mateo set his sights on Los Angeles to pursue his passion for music full time. And that's what he is doing... BEING THE DIFFERENCE he wanted to see in his world! And now, musically, it is showing up all over. Check him out.
MEANWHILE, since Anthony has moved here to the east coast, he's become such a 'pop culture' influence on me (as I think he would say I am on him). During his first week here, we went to karaoke and we have stumbled into a bit of a tradition where he will select a song for me to sing. MAXWELL's "This Woman's Work" is the new hit I do. Another that he stumbled into was DES'REE's "Kissing You" from the movie "Romeo and Juliet" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Daines. I had not seen the film nor had I heard the song, but Anthony insisted I sing it anyway --- following the melody, his direction, and the lyrics on the screen. With no frame of reference, Anthony says I did a great job. With that, everytime we go to Karaoke, he punches it in for me to sing to him. I did get the chance to hear the song when Anthony insisted - one night - that we watch the DVD of "Romeo and Juliet" at home. I fell asleep the first time, but stayed awake the second time... and I now know why it's his favorite. It's now one of our favorites. And the song as sung by Des'Ree - famous for her 1994 smash hit, "You Gotta Be" - in the movie is beautiful. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1G0NHmGcY0M) And Anthony is right. I did nail it (THE SONG... and PERHAPS THE KISS) the first time (if I don't say so myself). With that, "Kissing You" has become OUR SONG (or one of those that we share and are inspired by... in the context of our shared LOVE). Imagine my wonder when I got an e-mail from my nephew that another of my favorite young divas BEYONCE has covered the song on her newly-expanded and re-released B-DAY album (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU5GGiFK5Bc). However, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Manhattan Federal Court by music administators, Beyoncé allegedly never obtained proper clearance to cover the song, which she's re-titled "(Still in Love) Kissing You". In the lawsuit, Des'ree and her reps claim that Beyoncé, along with her record company people, originally tried to work out a deal to use the song. When they weren't satisfied with the proposed terms -- which included not being able to change the title or make a music video for the song -- Beyoncé allegedly blew off copyright law completely, and recorded the song and video without permission. Des'ree is suing to halt distribution of the song, video and album and seeking at least $150,000 in damages. Both versions are beautiful and though I don't necessarily know the reason for needing to change the title, I do know Beyonce is not the first diva to change a song's title when she re-recorded it. I recall Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston's "Hold Me" from 1982. It was a duet that introduced Whitney Houston to the airwaves. Well, Miss Ross re-recorded the Michael Masser composition on her sophomore RCA project "Silk Electric", changing the feel of the song and its title to "In Your Arms". Though I don't think there were any litigious issues that time, Beyonce is yet again standing on Ross' shoulders.