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Cory Doctorow

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Favorites/decade - "Contest"ed music

It's been the decade of the reality/contest genre on TV. I will admit to only watching two reality/contest shows: Rock Star: Supernova (I didn't catch the only other season of "Rock Star" when a new lead singer for INXS was chosen. That season found a Michael Hutchence sound-a-like, a new record, a tour and the new singer winding up back where he started) and The Amazing Race.

I am now admitting to enjoying music from a select few "contestants" (it's the best word I know to describe the people who participate in these sorts of shows). There it is. I can no longer claim to be any sort of music snob, I suppose.

"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson. The first American Idol winner has had, in my opinion, the most interesting career since winning. I can't help but loving that she has a look that defies the standard mindset of a pop diva and has let her sound change throughout this decade. This song found her a rock-n-roll following to match her AI following.

Plus, I can't help singing along, banging my head a bit and stomping my feet. Bet you can't help it, either!

"Razorblade". The original version by Blue October (the video has some brief disturbing images a curse word or two) is a great, let the blood boil angry rant with some pretty disturbing lyrics. Since this is the reality/contest favorites post, it was this performance of the song by Zayra Alvarez on Rock Star: Supernova that made my jaw drop and immediate search the original out. I continue to encourage rock's youngest fans that love new covers to seek out the original version of the cover and to check out the new artist's influences to start broadening their musical palette. Zayra's performance, in a way, foreshadows the last half of this decade's growing love of outrageous looking performances with talent to match. Feels like a return to early 70's glam-rock, at least style-wise, is well underway.

. . . and, from this past year:

It only took me until this past season of American Idol to find a 2nd singer from this show that I can't stop watching: Adam Lambert. This guy has an amazing set of pipes and has the chops to sing bubble-gum pop in one moment, then roar out glam/theatrical rock-n-roll the next. His debut CD takes a stab at capturing his range and, from the few listens I've given it, is kind of hit and miss. I'm not much of a fan of what tops the pop music charts in the last few years because a lot of it sounds mass-produced with interchangeable voices, so I cannot fault Adam for covering the ground into which a typical AI teen fan would hook. My favorite track on the album is one written by Justin Hawkins from The Darkness called "Music Again". It's great to hear him easily soar in and out of falsetto and rock the bejesus out of this one.

Finally, I now self-identify as a fan of Susan Boyle.

Like a few million others in the past 6 months or so, I watched the viral video of her first performance on Britain's Got Talent and was very moved. The months since that first performance have been worthy of conversation as to how she handled the knockout punch of fame she received. The album she released a few weeks ago has, hopefully, silenced those who may have thought her fame would overwhelm her.

I rolled my eyes a bit at on-line chatter about the huge number of albums sold versus the level of promotion over the release of a much-anticipated album from a much beloved artist. Selling over 700,000 albums in the first week these days is quite an accomplishment. If most of the folks who bought the album wind up giving the CDs to relatives, it doesn't decrease album sales nor is it any sort of bellwether of the type of fans she will have in the years to come.

The original versions of "Wild Horses" from the early 70's by both Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones pretty much stand untouched. Ms. Boyle's version works for me because it's her choice of song and, compared to many of the other songs on the album, her voice is most expressive here.

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