I’m very pleased to have a feature in Salon today on the American Idol contestant contract situation, which is not good, for them:
- Hope, uncertainty, euphoria, disillusionment: This is a familiar career arc for pop stars caught in the manufacturing cogs of the star-making machine, from Ronnie Spector and the Monkees to the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and O-Town.
Will this be the fate of winner Kelly Clarkson and the other finalists of Fox’s summer smash “American Idol: The Search for a Superstar”? At first glance, Clarkson would seem to have it made. This week sees the release of her first chart-bound single, “Before Your Love/A Moment Like This.” But Clarkson is less an artist, in the old-fashioned sense, than the extruded product of an impersonal manufacturing process.
Clarkson and the other finalists signed an unusually onerous contract with 19 Group, the production company headed by British pop entrepreneur Simon Fuller. These young performers are wrapped up for recording, management and merchandising under the most restrictive terms imaginable: Their careers are literally not their own….
Entertainment Weekly discusses Kelly’s new single and her music career:
- Kelly Clarkson may have bested Justin, Nikki, and some 10,000 others, but she’ll soon face a challenge even more Darwinian than ”American Idol.” When the stripe-haired, sweet-smiling Texan releases her debut album on RCA Records early next year, she’ll find herself competing not with fellow amateurs, but with some of the music biz’s heaviest hitters. Two of her role models, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, are even releasing albums this fall.
So what should Kelly do as she prepares to play with the big boys and girls? Industry vet David Foster (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston) and two younger producer/songwriters — Peter Zizzo (Avril Lavigne, M2M) and Warryn Campbell (Sisqo, Brandy) — offer EW.com some detailed, if occasionally conflicting, advice for her album.
Foster may be the king of the adult-contemporary ballad, but even he thinks that the material Kelly sang on ”American Idol” was stodgy. ”Most of it was too adult,” he says. ”Now that we’re all older we tend to forget who we’re selling records to.” To appeal to kids and fit in on the radio, Kelly should embrace a modern R&B edge (if she’s comfortable with it), while also sticking with the big, early-Mariah style ballads that seem to be her strength (i.e., ”A Moment Like This”), says Foster. ”You’ve got to think that kind of big ballad slot is slightly available. There really isn’t anyone in their early 20s that’s doing that right now.”
But Campbell says that Kelly should keep her slow songs to a minimum. ”[‘A Moment Like This’] was a little TOO ‘Mariah-’94’ for me,” he says. ”I would give her one or two ballads, but I wouldn’t go all the way to the ‘Titanic’ song like Celine.” Instead, Campbell recommends that Kelly either go for pop with a strong hip-hop base (think Britney’s ”Slave 4 U”) or the newly popular pop with a rock edge (think Pink and Avril Lavigne). She could even combine those approaches. ”I’m thinking something like the beat from [Nelly’s] ‘Hot in Herre’ with the vocal from [No Doubt’s] ‘Hey Baby,”’ he says. ”Don’t make an album for 2003 — make it for 2005.”
OR THINK CLASSIC
Kelly should ignore trends and put that huge voice to work on what’s closest to her heart, according to Zizzo, who was the first producer to work with Avril Lavigne. ”I don’t think Kelly should pay any attention to what’s current. Kelly leaning towards rock is not her being herself,” he says. ”Kelly is a soulful pop singer and she needs soulful pop songs. She has a bit of a Gladys Knight-type of sound to her.”
Zizzo points to the surprise success of jazzy traditionalist Norah Jones as a sign that audiences are ready for a more retro, soulful feel to their pop. ”The challenge is that being a manufactured pop star is not the thing of the moment. Being a real young artist is more popular right now than it’s ever been,” he says. ”But Kelly IS a really talented young artist in more of the classic vocalist way.”
All three experts agree that Kelly deserved to triumph on ”American Idol” (”I would’ve jumped out the window if that other guy [Justin] had won,” notes Campbell). But they worry that her novel status as a contest winner could prevent the girl-next-door diva from reaching the career heights she deserves. ”There’s so many pitfalls — instant fame can be hard to handle,” says Foster. ”She has to stay true to herself musically.”
Zizzo worries that RCA may rush Kelly’s album into stores (just this week the original Nov. 26 street date was pushed back to early next year). ”She’s going to have to be creatively developed and groomed as if they’re starting from nothing,” he says. ”So they need to take some time and not just quickly capitalize on [her sudden fame]. But Campbell says he’s unconcerned: ”I’ve done whole albums in two and a half weeks that ended up selling two million copies.” RCA, are you listening?
Joey McIntyre offers Kelly some advice:
- What did you think of the final three contestants?
When Justin and Nikki sang, it was like watching a train wreck. I told a friend of mine, ”Man, I could judge, host, and win this f—ing contest!” But then Kelly came out, and I thought, ”Hey, maybe I couldn’t win after all.” The show was lucky to have her.
Kelly’s obviously talented, but is that enough to make her a star?
She has an amazing voice, but the really cool thing about her is she’s not only adorable, she’s a normal looking girl. That’s so great in this society of Christina Aguilera’s and Britney Spears. There are all these billboards of Kelly around L.A. right now, and she’s just got the best, most natural smile.
What do you think of that drippy single, ”A Moment Like This”? Is Kelly doomed to be a second rate Celine?
You know, that song’s going to be a hit. They may have taken the 5 best parts from songs of the last 20 years to make it, but I’ll admit it, I keep singing it. And yes, even though the album’s probably going to be kind of schlocky, it’s going to do really well. And hopefully on the next album she’ll be able to do more of what she wants to do.
What does Kelly need to do to survive the pressure cooker of fame?
For anyone it really comes down to family. I loved that her mother was crying during the final episode while her father was chewing gum, chomping away like he was watching a baseball game. That was perfect! On the other hand, Justin’s father, the prodigal father, was singing and grooving in $2,000 suits that you know Justin is going to be paying for a week from now.
Will Kelly always be stuck with the ”American Idol” label?
When I had a top 10 record as a solo act, I thought, No one will ever call me a New Kid on the Block again. But that’s just not true. So the important thing is that, when you’re doing what’s right for you, you don’t worry about that as much. It’s hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind of fame, and the New Kids definitely went through it, but that’s where family and your friends become so important.
Kelly is surely being swarmed with fans everywhere she goes. What’s the pop star secret to surviving the onslaught?
I’m honest with my fans. If I’m playing a concert and they won’t stop calling out for old songs, I’ll say, ”C’mon, no more New Kids s—.” But as my father would say, ”It’s showbiz. You can’t take yourself too seriously.”
Any pointers for the other finalists?
Sorry, but Nikki couldn’t sing her way out of a paper bag. But she should do eight shows a week in Vegas. That would be cool.