Dramatic License

A weblog of thoughts, inspirations, experiences of, in and about live theatre, film, television, literature and other media.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Review - Some Hearts by Carrie Underwood

American Idol has not turned out to be what its creators thought it would be. It is certainly one of the best-rated television shows in television history and has spawned a slew of international imitators, but it has failed to do what it’s creators set out to do: discover and develop America’s newest pop idol. What it has done is proven that America is more interested in steak than sizzle. It has proven that America is more capable of recognizing, rewarding and nurturing real talent than the so-called experts in the entertainment industry.

For instance, Kelly Clarkson’s success has been largely due to firing 19 Entertainment, the management she was contractually obligated to take on as winner of the first American Idol, and convincing people that she can write as well as sing. Indeed, most of the worst things done by this first Idol winner have been of the contractually obligated variety: From Justin to Kelly, The Movie, for instance. The persona she has developed since she won the first competition is more anti-idol Avril Lavigne than idol Britney Spears and it marks her as a true talent rather than a made-for-mainstream consumption singer. Rotund Ruben Studdard and fey Clay Aiken are as anti-idol as they come, as are single mother Fantasia Barrino and chunky Diana DeGarmo, who has recently taken on the Hairspray role on Broadway that Rikki Lake originated in the movies. Yet all are truly talented singers and performers.

American Idol has failed to produce a pop idol, however it has given us some real talents. Idol hit its anti-idol zenith this past season when the finale pitted a southern rocker who auditioned on a dare, Bo Bice, against a shy squeaky-clean country girl, Carrie Underwood. Personally, I think Bo was robbed, but Carrie has proven herself to be a solid artist with her debut CD, Some Hearts. And what is most ironic is that her first hit single was the most anti-idol song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” that flew up both the Country and Contemporary Christian charts almost overnight.

If American Idol has taught us anything it has taught us that there is more to American music than just Top 40 pop songs. It has also taught us that maybe, just maybe, the people who listen to music, the American public, know more about what really constitutes talent than the experts whose job it is to discover and nurture this talent.

Carrie Underwood has eclipsed the immediate success of previous Idol winners and has outperformed on the Country charts the previous winners of Idol’s Country counterpart, Nashville Star, in every category. Some Hearts is not only a solid first effort by a very lucky and talented young lady, but should be the envy of many seasoned performers as well.

The biggest mistakes Some Hearts makes are the decidedly non-Country and highly pop songs that Carrie, I’m sure, was contractually obligated to record. Though not necessarily bad songs in themselves, “Some Hearts,” “Lessons Learned” and “Whenever You Remember” are glaring stylistic departures from the rest of the CD and are not tailored to Carrie’s personality and style. In fact they are the musical equivalent of off-the-rack garments. I could just as easily imagine Jewel, Natalie Merchant or Lisa Loeb performing these songs as Carrie. Of course, it could be that, as a major Star Trek geek I simply have yet to forgive Diane Warren for that lame Star Trek: Enterprise theme song.

Don’t even get me started on “Inside Your Heaven.” The American Idol producers have allowed themselves to buy into a fantasy that they can get some random songwriters together who can write a totally generic song that will be able to be performed by whoever wins the competition. They did this with “A Moment Like This” for Kelly and Justin and repeated it for Carrie and Bo. Stop this. You cannot give crappy material to talented people and expect them to breathe life into it, especially when they are raw talents such as these competitors. No matter how many bows you put around crap, it is still crap and stinks just the same. You have a better chance of locking 100 chimpanzees in a room with typewriters and having them randomly create a draft of Hamlet than you do of creating a great pop song for these performers without taking their personalities, experience and abilities into consideration. American Idol producers need to stop giving their songwriter friends these assignments. Let the Idol contestants perform solid material that has a proven track record and then give them songwriters who can work with their personalities when it comes time to putting together their CDs. Better yet, get the artists involved in the creative process as well.

I stated earlier that Bo Bice was robbed. It was because his performance of “Inside Your Heaven” was subpar. He did not want to perform that kind of material and his performance showed it. When he lost, I knew it was because of this song and his performance of it. I thought to myself, “well, at least he won’t have to release that crap as a single.” I was wrong. He was contractually obligated and released it as a single early in the promotional phase of his career.

Now that I have vented about all of this pop pabulum, let me get down to talking about what I like about this CD: nearly everything else. Some Hearts has produced three bona fide Country hits: “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” (perhaps the best song on the whole CD) and the just-released “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” Each of these songs is what good Country music is supposed to be: real lyrics and music about real people. I especially love the image of the virginal Carrie carving her name in the pristine paint job of a pretentious Legacy with her key. That’ll teach him, all right. It’s right up there with Erica Jo’s (Nashville Star winner) “I Break Things.” Next up on the singles release should be “We’re Young And Beautiful.” If that one doesn’t climb the charts just as fast as the others, I don’t know what will.

Lastly, Carrie has done what every good artist, Country or otherwise, should do: record a song that only she can sing. Like Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Gretchen Wilson’s “Pocahontas Proud” and Faith Hill’s “Mississippi Girl,” Carrie’s “I Ain’t In Checotah Anymore” is a great signature song that will stay with her a long time. Nichole Nordeman might record and perform “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and a host of other established and up-and-coming Country singers might record and perform “Before He Cheats,” but only Carrie can record and perform “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore.”

Despite decidedly formulaic and non-Country departures, Some Hearts is a solid first effort, perhaps the best first effort to date for American Idol winners. Now all Carrie needs to do is get out of her contracts with American Idol producers, 19 Entertainment, and hook up with Nashville people who know what they’re doing in the industry. If she is unable to do this, then her superstar career might wither and die on the vine.

**** out of *****