Category: American Idol

Ruben Studdard gets personal on 'Letters From Birmingham'


In the nearly nine years since Ruben Studdard beat out Clay Aiken for the “American Idol” title on the show's second season, his career has mostly avoided the seeming “Idol” curse that has plagued some of the show’s biggest voices.

The charming singer -- whose Luther Vandross-inflected vocals and cuddly size earned him the moniker of the "Velvet Teddy Bear" -- has steadily released a slew of gold- and platinum-selling discs and dabbled in acting, starring in the musicals "Ain't Misbehavin'" and “Heaven I Need a Hug.”

The 33-year-old hasn’t been immune to the pitfalls of fame itself, however, with his personal life garnering more than its fair share of ink. In November, he filed for divorce from his wife of three years, he’s shifted labels a few times, and at the moment his alleged troubles with the IRS have received more press coverage than his new album. Despite the scuffs, Studdard remains the same affable and humble Alabama-bred boy who used his gospel-rooted baritone to charm 24 million Americans into crowning him the “Idol” champ back in 2003.

The singer has chronicled the ups and downs of his not-so-private life on his fifth album, "Letters from Birmingham," which was released on Tuesday. The revealing disc serves as his debut for indie imprint Shanachie Records.

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Studdard takes the concept record approach by tracing a whirlwind relationship from its early beginnings of courtship, marriage and its eventual dissolution -- interspersing spoken-word love letters in between.

“Birmingham,” though largely grounded in 1970s and '80s soul balladry and up-tempo R&B, offers a few surprises including a deft cover of Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha.” On Studdard's divorce anthem, “June 28th (I'm Single)” -– the title pulled from his wedding date -- he reinterprets the “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” standard “Pure Imagination,” effortlessly transforming it into a quiet storm bedroom romp.

Studdard spoke with Pop & Hiss about getting personal (on record) and longevity long after “Idol.”

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Will Smith, Simon Cowell team for DJ competition show

Will Smith
With Skrillex up for best new artist at the Grammys, Calvin Harris heating up the charts with Rihanna and AVICII, Swedish House Mafia, Kaskade, Afrojack and David Guetta landing plum Coachella slots, there’s little doubt that DJ culture has gone mainstream.

So, perhaps it's little surprise that a reality competition show would be on the horizon. Will Smith and "American Idol"/"X-Factor" vet Simon Cowell have joined forces to seek out the next hottest DJ –- or at least the one most likely to win a talent show. 

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Steven Tyler joins the club of national anthem bunglers [video]

Steven Tyler

"American Idol" judge and sometime Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler has survived drugs, alcohol and falls from the stage, but singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" may have been too much for him.

The singer performed the national anthem before a Patriots-Ravens NFL playoff game in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday and by several accounts shredded it to pieces. (Other fans maintain Tyler was just doing his stylized interpretation of the song). Besides his usual screeching, Tyler gave approximations of the lyrics, singing "as bomb bursting in air" instead of the preferred "the bombs bursting in air."

While the performance was met with cheers from the stands, the TV audience had a much different reaction. Fox News host Greg Gutfeld tweeted, "I went outside to put a raccoon out of its misery -- then I realized my neighbor was watching Steven Tyler sing the Star-Spangled Banner."

Actor Michael McKean, who knows a thing or two about bad singing from his Spinal Tap days, wrote, "'Nailed it!' -- Steven Tyler, only."

But Tyler did have his defenders, including "Parks and Recreation" actor and the man who played Drew Peterson, Rob Lowe, with his kinda-sorta supportive tweet, "#StevenTyler!!!!"

Tyler's national anthem foul-up isn't the first time an unwitting celebrity has strayed into the unforgiving jaws of the Francis Scott Key-John Stafford Smith tune. It's long been described as a notoriously difficult anthem to sing, with many singers preferring the more easy-going "America the Beautiful." But if we went with an easy song, then there would be no way to separate the merely good singers from the great singers and if there's anything an "Idol" judge should appreciate, it's a challenge.

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Daughtry and Nickelback fighting the good fight for Team Rock

Both bands are committed to the cause, and both have released albums on the same day. Too bad they’re up against the latest from pop princess Rihanna.


“Heard that song on the radio,” Chris Daughtry sings on the new album by his platinum-selling rock band, Daughtry, “and it got my gears turning like a real-life time machine.” The words come from “Louder Than Ever,” a crunchy, guitar-heavy number in which the former “American Idol” finalist chews over his memories of an old romance: He and his lover were “two hearts on the getaway” — the very embodiment of “young love on the freeway” — and a chance encounter with their favorite tune now has him reliving “those nights [they] used to sing along.” It’s sweet.

Yet as a track on one of 2011’s highest-profile rock releases, “Louder Than Ever” seems to long for more than just a faded affair. When Daughtry slides into the chorus and sings, “Those days might be gone,” it’s easy to imagine him mourning the death of mainstream rock itself; he’s lamenting the end of an era when a crunchy, guitar-heavy number was likely to crop up on the radio in the first place.

Several of the songs on his album feel this way, and the histrionics aren’t without basis. According to a report published in Billboard last month, only one rock release was among the 10 top-selling albums through the first three quarters of 2011. (That release was “Sigh No More” by the bookish Brit-folk outfit Mumford & Sons, a group whose relation to rock may exist solely in the minds of its members.)

At press time, Coldplay had established a berth inside iTunes’ top 10 with “Mylo Xyloto” — on which, it’s worth noting, frontman Chris Martin performs a duet with the dance-pop star Rihanna. But it was at No. 7, well behind Drake, Adele and the kids from “Glee.”

Maybe this challenging environment is what led Daughtry to issue its album, tellingly titled “Break the Spell,” on Monday — the same day as “Here and Now,” the latest from Canada’s Nickelback. Both acts are among the genre’s biggest, with tens of millions of albums sold between them; each has reason to believe in its chart-topping ability. But they seem to have teamed up in an effort to rally rock fans, to provide a reminder of the days when beefy guys in Hanes Beefy-Ts dominated the marketplace. They’re taking one for Team Rock — a purely symbolic gesture, perhaps, given the likelihood that Rihanna will keep both groups out of the top spot with her new album, “Talk That Talk.”

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'American Idol' winner Scotty McCreery makes Billboard history

"American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery notched himself into the history books as his debut album, "Clear as Day," opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The gravel-voiced teenager logged 197,000 copies of the disc, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making him the first country act to bow at No. 1 with a debut album. At 18, McCreery is also the youngest male to have a debut open at No. 1. R&B singer Omarion previously held the title with his first release in 2005 when he was 20.

McCreery's success is surely welcoming for the aging franchise. Last year's winner, Lee DeWyze, was quietly dropped from longtime RCA Records after his post-"Idol" debut opened to poor sales. Before DeWyze, Kris Allen's eponymous 2009 debut also suffered from weak sales.

An "Idol" winner's debut hasn't bowed at No. 1 since Ruben Studdard's "Soulful" in 2003.


'American Idol' winner Lee DeWyze dropped by RCA Records

'American Idol' favorite Pia Toscano lands record deal with Interscope

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina make post-'American Idol' chart debuts, ink deals with Mercury Nashville

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Scotty McCreery. Credit: Mercury Nashville / 19 Recordings / Interscope Records

'American Idol' winner Lee DeWyze dropped by RCA Records


Lee DeWyze might have taken the crown on "American Idol" last year but today, he needs a new label to call home.

Following a recent restructuring of RCA Records, the long-running home of "Idol" winners, the label decided not to extend his contract and quietly dropped the 25-year-old rocker, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

RCA kept previous "Idol" winners Kris Allen, David Cook, Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood and inaugural winner Kelly Clarkson. DeWyze will continue to be managed by 19 Entertainment and is "in a good place" as he works on new projects, a spokesperson for the management company told Pop & Hiss on Thursday.

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'American Idol' winner Lee DeWyze to gig the tiny Hotel Cafe


"American Idol" has always spoiled its winners. Almost instantly after being crowned, they sign lucrative recording/management contracts, are tossed the keys to a brand new car (even if it's a Ford Focus) and hit the road, along with the show's other finalists, for a nationwide summer arena tour.

So it's a little surprising to hear that 2010 winner Lee DeWyze's next set of dates won't be at a larger venue such as the Nokia Theatre, where he recieved his "Idol" crown, or Staples Center, the place he played on last summer's Idols Live tour. Instead, the singer is headlining two nights at Hollywood's Hotel Cafe -- one of L.A.'s preeminent launch pads for local singer-songwriters hoping to catch a break.

To be fair, DeWyze, who competed in a season full of acoustic-driven singer-songwriters, never quite fit the "Idol" mold and fans of the show, and critics debated that throughout the season. And he hasn't had the best post-"Idol" track record either.

His debut, "Live It Up," arrived to mostly stale reviews and logged 39,000 copies in its first week. Its No. 19 debut is the lowest for a winner from the franchise, including the oft-ridiculed Taylor Hicks. The disc is only the second, after Season 8 winner Kris Allen's epoynomous debut, to not debut in the top 10 of the Billboard 200.

DeWyze performs at Hotel Cafe both Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets for the 21+ show (perhaps he forgot who mostly voted for him on "Idol") are $20, not including fees, and can be purchased here.


'American Idol' favorite Pia Toscano lands record deal with Interscope

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina make post-'American Idol' chart debuts, ink deals with Mercury Nashville

Crystal Bowersox talks 'American Idol,' debut album, artistic freedom and sticking to her guns

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Lee DeWyze, right, tapes a television commercial for Disney Parks at the Nokia Theatre on  May 26 after being crowned the newest "American Idol" in Los Angeles. Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer / Associated Press

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina of 'American Idol' hit GMA

Scotty McCreeery and Lauren Alaina 

“American Idol” champ Scotty McCreery, runner-up Lauren Alaina and the rest of the Season 10 finalists took a break from touring to hit the "Good Morning America" Summer Concert Series Friday morning.

The two country teens performed their debut singles and the finalists tackled a medley of hits that included Aerosmith‘s “Walk This Way” and Journey's “Any Way You Want It."

McCreery and Alaina, who both landed deals with Mercury Nashville, used the appearance to announce they will issue their debut albums only a week apart from one another this fall. McCreery will release "Clear as Day" on Oct. 4, with Alaina's "Wildflower" following on Oct. 11.

"We’ve been recording nonstop since the finale, so I'm really proud of it," McCreery said. Despite the album’s release and promotion, the show's youngest winner said he fully intends to complete school.

“It's my senior year,” he said. “I’m not going to miss those memories."

Check out their performances after the jump:

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Haley Reinhart of 'American Idol' fame inks deal with Interscope


Haley Reinhart,the bluesy ingenue who placed third on the past season of "American Idol," has inked a record deal with Interscope Records and 19 Recordings, a source from the label confirmed to Pop & Hiss on Monday.

The 20-year-old singer, despite making it as far as she did, had a rocky road during her "Idol" run. The panel of judges praised her bold showings of songs from Adele, Alanis Morissette and Elton John but offered her the most criticism for her stage presence -- and she landed in the bottom three four times during the season.

“There are a lot of opinions and it can eat you up. A lot of them are contradictory, and that’s the part that gets me,” Reinhart once said about the constant criticism backstage. “You have to meet in the middle and do what you feel as well. It can be tough.”

Reinhart joins another fan favorite at Interscope, as Pia Toscano recently announced she'd been signed to the label headed by "Idol" mentor Jimmy Iovine. Winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina both landed deals with Mercury Nashville --  which, like Interscope, is a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group -- for their respective debut albums.

An official announcement from the label regarding Reinhart's deal is expected to be released shortly.


'American Idol' favorite Pia Toscano lands record deal with Interscope

Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina make post-'American Idol' chart debuts, ink deals with Mercury Nashville

Idol Notes: Pop & Hiss lends an ear to the tunes that play out on "American Idol"

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy / gerrickkennedy

Photo: "American Idol" contestant Haley Reinhart performs at the Maverick Center during the debut of the American Idol nationwide tour in West Valley City, Utah, on  July 6. Credit: Steve Griffin / Associated Press

Emmy nominations show music programming love, just in case you didn't know


Sure, the news of HBO scoring 104 Emmy nods Thursday morning dominated headlines covering the annual awards show. But music-based programming got a dose of love too.

Lady Gaga helped boost HBO’s staggering tally, when her concert special "The Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden" snagged five nominations, including variety, music or comedy special, which is up against Bette Midler’s HBO music special.

Justin Timberlake proved that not working on music won’t stop him from getting recognition for it. He landed three nominations for his numerous appearances on “Saturday Night Live’s” always hilarious digital shorts.

The singer-turned-mostly-actor was nominated once for guest actor in a comedy series and twice for original music and lyrics for "Justin Timberlake Monologue" and "3-Way (The Golden Rule)," which featured Andy Samberg and Lady Gaga. Gaga wasn’t nominated for the spot because she didn’t co-write the music or lyrics.

It came as no surprise that ratings juggernauts "Glee" and "American Idol" led the pack of nods when it came to music-based programming.
“Glee,” which continues to be as big a hit on the Billboard charts as it is on television, scored 12 nominations, including comedy series, supporting actor in a comedy series for Chris Colfer and supporting actress in a comedy series for Jane Lynch. And “American Idol” landed 10 nods, including one in the reality -- competition series category.


2011 Primetime Emmy Awards nominees

Photos: Top Emmy nominees

Emmy nominee reactions

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Screenshot from "Saturday Night Live's" season finale, which featured Justin Timberlake, left, Lady Gaga and Andy Samberg in the Lonely Island's "3-Way (The Golden Rule)."

An additional 11 Eleven more came for “Too Big to Fail,” HBO’s dramatization of the 2008 financial meltdown on Wall Street.

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